I liked this book. It’s a pretty good, if not emotionally taxing, pop science book about how we all live our lives. You could sum it up into one sentence: “Go outside, it’s good for you.” But Williams goes further, travelling and interviewing people who are doing research to figure out why being outside is good for you.
Williams covers the senses in the book, investigating research which tries to uncover what exactly it is that’s beneficial, and how it’s beneficial. In the smell section, she talks about the smell of cypress and cedar, which help you heal and reduce anxiety. This was interesting to me, because I always figured aromatherapy was just woo woo stuff without any scientific background. After smell she moves on to sound (noise is very disruptive and not good for your psyche, but trickling water is okay) and then on to sight. If she covered taste and touch I don’t recall. In the section on sight she discussed fractals and how they make people happier, but I found that section dull and hard to connect with.
I’d heard that it’s more relaxing to walk in “nature” than not in nature, but Williams’ book goes farther. There’s a “nature walk” in a park with landscaped lawns and trees, and a “nature walk” when you’re off the grid and just another animal in the wilderness. I’d never heard before that there was any kind of a benefit to camping other than having a fun place to play with fire or drink too much, but apparently there’s research that shows it can be beneficial for people with ADHD or PTSD. Both of which are groups who need to learn to focus on the now.
It’s only near the end of the book that Williams tries to define “nature.” Singapore, though it is a lush green city that really cares about its verdant image, is not really wild enough to be “nature.” But as someone who was raised in the desert, I kind of got irritated at this lapse. Trees and water are nature, and a little bit is good, but a lot (that’s wild) is much better. Moab, in the deserts of southern Utah, counted as nature, but what about a smaller desert park in Phoenix? Does a weed-filled lot count more or less than a spare, manicured desert garden? Do you have to be someplace where you can’t see buildings and other manmade structures?
In the end, as with most pop science books about lifestyle, the conclusion I felt she came to was “whatever you’re doing to get out in nature, it’s not enough.” Which is kind of sad. I mean, I feel the typical GenXer’s chagrin that my children weren’t able to have the freedom and independence that I did, with their childhoods full of indoor screen-based activities. But I also don’t trust this book enough to want to go camping. (Mostly because camping is really hard on your skin and hair but also because it involves doing a ton of cleaning and packing and other tedious chores.) But it does give me some validation that no, I’m not just imagining it, I really do feel better when I can walk in the woods every day. And yes, houseplants are good for you.