Restorative Experiences

“Natural environments turn out to be particularly rich in the characteristics necessary for restorative experiences.

When I read that, my first thought was, “well, duh.” But google leads me to some interesting places and I came across this article that goes into explaining what exactly a “restorative experience” is and it was kind of inspiring and thought provoking so I thought I would share. If you don’t have time to read it, I’m going to summarize a few of the key points here.

Have you ever come back from a vacation (or a weekend) and thought that you need another one to recover from the one you just had? I’m sure it surprises no one that we, as humans, tend to suffer from “Directed Attention Fatigue”. In other words, we’ve “Got a Lot Going On”. According to Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, professors at the University of Michigan who have done extensive study on this, there are four factors that contribute to somebody feeling “restored” by an environment. None of these stand on their own, but work together toward that goal.

Being Away
Both conceptually and physically, we need to feel that shift from the every day. Just being in a new environment doesn’t do it – there needs to be a “change in the direction of one’s gaze”. There’s something to be said for not taking your cell phone with you.

I read this as our need to be wowed. It could be something surprising. Or unique. Or maybe something we are fascinated in our regular lives by that makes us grin to see it here too.

Meaning, we have to feel like it’s a natural fit to be here. If you’re a hiker, you want trails. If you’re a bird watcher, you want birds. But more than that, you need to feel like you aren’t editing your every move to act appropriately in the space.

The environment must be rich and coherent enough so that it constitutes a whole other world. Basically it means that all the things we can see, do, touch and feel here takes up a substantial portion of the room in our heads.

Sometimes, I feel that way from an hour in my backyard. Sometimes I have to go a lot further away. Working for landscape architects, I get to see behind the curtain of how our experiences are “designed” to be a certain way. You could see where this kind of thinking has an impact on large or small projects. Like a small, urban park in a neighborhood that otherwise doesn’t get much “breathing space”. Or a vacation destination that has to balance what we want out of it with what our psyche really needs. Mostly it just makes me think about my own free time and how to seek out those places that rebuild my energy so I come back from them ready to focus anew.

If you want to read more, check out the book: The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan.


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