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The POWER of PLACE

Updated: Jan 10


In the grand scheme of life, our environment is the backdrop against which we get to play out our life stories. From the cozy confines of our homes to the busy streets of our cities, the natural beauty of our surroundings to the intricate designs of our architecture, every aspect of our environment has a profound impact on our wellbeing. I’m someone who is greatly impacted by my surroundings that has impacted my physical and mental health. I’ve come to learn the importance of the spaces we live in and how it’s a big factor to our happiness.


Let there be light…


Imagine a life without sunlight. It's not just a dramatic plot point in a dystopian novel; it's a reality for people like me who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD, also known as "winter depression," (although it impacts me even in dingy indoor spaces and gloomy days anytime of the year) is a type of depression that occurs as a result of lack of light that can be a slippery slope to fatigue, irritability, a lack of motivation and even depressionResearch shows that exposure to natural light can improve mood and increase productivity even in the workplace. So don’t take an office without windows! In work spaces with abundant natural light, employees reported a 15% reduction in absenteeism.


Also people who spent more time in natural light during the day experienced better sleep at night and a direct impact to overall health. And apparently getting light early in the day keeps your circadian rhythm running smoothing. For individuals like me who are particularly sensitive to the effects of light means my personal indoor space needs to be equipped for as much bright light and natural light as possible. On dark dreary winter mornings, you’ll find my with my first cup of coffee sitting next to a therapy lamp that resembles sunlight. But it goes beyond that. Evenings also need to be filled with ambient lighting that feels cozy and inviting.


Nature's a chill pill whether you’re an outdoorsy person or not.


Whether you’re an urbanite or someone who loves lots of outdoor space, our connection with nature is deeply ingrained in our DNA. Studies have shown that exposure to green spaces, such as being near parks and gardens has a huge impact on our state of mind. This phenomenon is often referred to as "biophilia," our innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. There’s a study from Japan of participants who spent time in a 'forest bathing' exhibited lower cortisol, reduced heart rates and improved mood. I know for me, the sounds of the ocean and a sunny beach can do that in a snap. Even hospital patients with a view of natural scenery from their rooms tend to recover more quickly and require fewer pain medications than those with views of brick walls. I mean do we need anymore evidence that we all need to to harness the benefits of nature and why it's so important to be near it? Whether it's a casual walk through a park or simply gazing at a potted plant on your windowsill or observing birds fluttering around a bird feeder...nature in any form needs to be part of our environment.


The architecture and designs that inspire us…


Beyond nature, our physical surroundings, such as the design and layout of our homes and workplaces play a huge role in our overall wellbeing. Thoughtfully designed spaces can really inspire creativity, foster collaboration, and improve overall state of mind and the motivation to stay productive. Don’t take interior design or decorating lightly. Creating the space that is a reflection of you has massive impact. Imagine a room filled with books or a wall of music albums, an art studio, or simply the canvas of a clear and clean space that just makes you feel good.


Those who work in aesthetically pleasing offices with good lighting and ergonomic furniture etc., reported a 33% increase in productivity. And when we inhabit spaces that inspire us, whether through captivating artwork or innovative design, we are more likely to experience a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment and who knows...motivate us to create and innovate and bring ideas to life.


But our environment can go beyond just the need for light, nature and inspiring spaces. Where we live such as the city or country also play a significant role to how well we thrive. And each of us are different. While some love the four seasons, other’s thrive better in warmer climates. Some need to be in the country in wide open spaces while others need the energy of a metropolitan city with an abundance of activities, restaurants, museums and more at their doorstep. And for women in particular, safety is a big factor to the areas we live in and how secure we feel in our homes.


But more importantly well want to live somewhere where we feel connected. To have a sense of community near friends, family, mentors and other like minded people feeds our souls and enriches our lives. And in this world of zoom and FaceTime, although was a saving grace during the pandemic and a fantastic way to stay connected to people all over the world, we still need to go somewhere where 'everyone knows your name' that gives you a sense of belonging.


To live a life with more meaning means taking a good hard look at your existing environments...behind closed doors and what's outside those walls.


Because it’s not just a backdrop to our lives but rather a big influential factor to how fulfilled we feel. From the sunshine that brightens our days to the green spaces that gives us a sense of peace to the inspiring designs that fuels our creativity, to the weather and the people nearby all play a vital role in our lives and our physical and mental health.


This is the power of place.


I have big dreams of owning multiple places that feed all parts of me. The home in Italy filled with art, culture, and amazing food. I can visualize big gatherings dining al fresco. And I would love to have a getaway by the sea with glorious lazy days, the warmth of the sun and long beaches that just melts stress away. But I’m also a lover of the bustle of life in the city that fuels my ambitions and my desire to learn and grow. In the meantime I strike a balance to have that kind of harmony in my life no matter where in the world I hang my hat. I’ve moved twenty eight times in my life and I’ve learned that I’m pretty good at making anywhere I’ve lived feel like home. In fact, it's as necessary as food and water for me.


We all have the power to create the spaces that nurtures our happiness, our interests that is a true reflection of who we are. But we owe it to ourselves to do all we can with what we have to align our environment to reflect our deepest needs and desires. It is after all, the foundation to our success and happiness.


References:

  • Heschong Mahone Group. (2003). Windows and Offices: A Study of Office Worker Performance and the Indoor Environment. Available at: https://h-m-g.com/index.html

  • Boubekri, M., Cheung, I. N., & Reid, K. J. (2014). Impact of windows and daylight exposure on overall health and sleep quality of office workers: a case-control pilot study. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 10(6), 603-611.

  • Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 9-17.

  • Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224(4647), 420-421.

  • Nieuwenhuis, M., Knight, C., Postmes, T., & Haslam, S. A. (2014). The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20(3), 199-214.

  • Ulrich, R. S., Zimring, C., Zhu, X., DuBose, J., Seo, H. B., Choi, Y. S., ... & Joseph, A. (2008). A review of the research literature on evidence-based healthcare design. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 1(3), 61-125.

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