The late environmental psychologist Anita Olds created a process many years ago that I find stunning in its implications. Anita specialized in the design of environments for health care, and she often led audiences through this simple exercise:
- Recall a time when you were injured, physically or emotionally. Now think of where you were at the time.
- Recall a time when you felt physically or emotionally healed. Where were you at that time?
Anita then invited participants to share just the environments of the injuring experience and the healing experience. Over and over, the vast majority of injuring experiences happened indoors, and the majority of healing experiences happened outdoors.
How can this be? What does it tell us?
I became entranced by this exercise, and I altered it slightly for a broader audience:
- Recall a time when you felt really bad—unwell, injured, unhappy, seriously out of sorts. Where were you at that time?
- Now recall a time when you felt really good—deeply alive, healed, truly at one with your own nature. Where were you?
I’ve done this exercise with dozens of audiences, all over the U.S., and the results are consistent: a show of hands reveals that most (about 70-80%) of the “bad” experiences were indoors, while the great majority of the “good” experiences were outdoors.
Given that most Americans today spend over 90% of their time indoors, you might think that about 90% of both good and bad experiences would occur indoors—or maybe that somewhat more of the good experiences would occur outdoors. But far from it.
It would take more precision and analysis to plumb the depths of this phenomenon, but here’s what I take away from it: For whatever reasons, the outdoors is vastly more healing and energizing to people than the indoors—where we spend most of our lives.
What’s wrong with this picture? Put loosely, why are we spending most of our time in places that don’t feel utterly fabulous to us? And how can we alter our living environments so that we’re more likely to feel deeply alive in them?
Well, that’s the subject of this whole endeavor called Come Home to Nature. So stay tuned!
And please contribute your own experiences and observations: what feels best—and worst—to you, indoors or out?