Does Working Around Water Make You Happier and Healthier?

A best-selling book makes a compelling case for the inherent power of water to soothe, heal, inspire, and make us better, happier human beings.

I’ve often wondered what makes water and wastewater operators, as a general rule, such humble, well grounded, capable, collegial and contented professionals. A book I read recently points toward an answer: Could it be the mere fact of working with and around water?

Blue Mind, by Wallace J. Nichols, makes a convincing scientific argument that being near, in, on or under water makes people happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what they do. Operators in our industry aren’t always in scenic settings in the manner of, say, marine biologists or ferry boat captains. But they do work intimately with water every day and care about its quality as much as or more than people in other water-related professions.

So, if Nichols’ premise holds true — and he backs it up with volumes of data from scientific studies — it’s no surprise that the people who run treatment plants come heavily under the influence of water, with all the physical and psychological benefits that implies.

Exploring the why

Nichols begins by asking why we love water so much. He observes that to a meaningful extent we are water. In the womb we’re immersed in a watery environment. Our bodies are 78 percent water at birth. Our brains are 80 percent water. “In its mineral composition, the water in our cells is comparable to that found in the sea,” Nichols writes.

In exploring his subject, Nichols worked with scientists, psychologists, researchers, athletes, explorers, artists and others to consider: “What happens when our most complex organ — the brain — meets the planet’s largest feature — water?”

Along the way, he draws on research in which the brain’s responses to water were measured by techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). These studies document that our affinity for water is not merely some ethereal conjecture; it is hardwired into our physical being.

Extensive evidence

Nichols cites many and diverse examples of water’s attraction and power. “Most real estate agents will tell you that ‘ocean view’ is the most valuable phrase in the English language,” he says. He mentions two penthouse apartments in the same San Francisco building: The one with a view of the bay sold for $500,000 more than the one overlooking the city.

Do you care to guess what people worldwide say is their favorite color? It’s blue, says Nichols, “beating its closest competing color by a factor of three or four.”

Water can be part of the cure for drug and alcohol addiction. A California program called Surfing to Recovery takes addicts surfing, whitewater kayaking or sailing to help them replace the rush from drugs with a more natural kind of high. The activities on water can actually change their brain chemistry.

It’s well documented that hospital patients feel better, recover faster, and need less pain medication if they’re exposed to natural scenes, whether outside windows or in works of art. But the effect is the most pronounced when that natural scene shows open water, Nichols observes.

Blue marbles

To Nichols, “Blue Mind” is not just a book title. It is a form of consciousness, “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.” In short, the state of mind we readily experience when close to water.

In his speaking engagements, Nichols likes to give each audience member a blue marble, a symbol of the iconic picture of Earth taken from the moon by the crew of Apollo 17: “It’s a reminder to us all to be grateful, for each other and for our beautiful world.” And, of course, for the water that makes it so.

Those receiving the blue marble are encouraged to pass it along to someone they appreciate as an expression of gratitude. I’d argue that each reader of this magazine deserves a blue marble.
Nichols concludes, “Fall more deeply in love with water in all its shapes, colors and forms. Let it heal you and make you a better, stronger version of yourself. You need water. And water needs you now.”


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