why we all need a day at the beach

There was something so mesmerizing about the Amish family at the beach.

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At first they seemed out of place. Long skirts and bonnets. Dark hats, pants, shirts. Beards growing down to their chests. Suspenders.

Not at all what you’d expect to find on a Northern California beach on a balmy January day.

Amidst the flip-flops and frisbees you might think they didn’t belong there.

Until you looked a little closer, that is.

They’d doffed their sturdy shoes, wet footprints mingling with dozens of others in the sand.

Gingerly, they advanced toward the waves then quickly retreated, giggling as the cold, foamy ocean grazed their toes.

They grabbed their laughing children and swung them up, up, up and around, laughing themselves and gulping deep lungfuls of sea air.

They sat, sometimes talking, sometimes silent, looking out at the endless expanse of water and horizon.

They ate their picnic. They watched the sunset.

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They did just what we’ve probably all done during a day at the beach.

I didn’t want to intrude, but I so wanted to capture this experience, this Amish family at the beach. So I surreptitiously snapped their photo.

When I got home from the beach my February issue of Coastal Living was waiting in the mailbox and I smiled when I saw one of articles: Why the Beach Makes Us Happy. Turns out there’s some fascinating science behind the deep contentment and joy we normally feel at the beach.

A lot of beachy happiness has to do with our senses.

We experience pure pleasure from the sound of predictable wave patterns and soft volumes at regular intervals. Ocean sounds actually activate the brain’s prefrontal cortex which is associated with emotion and self-reflection.

Visually, when we’re able to look out at a flat plane or vista, we tend to feel safe and secure.

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We even have an emotional response to the feel of sand under our feet and between our toes.

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And when we add movement–chasing waves, walking, digging, hunting driftwood, surfing–then a day at the beach ratchets down our stress levels even more.

Of course, there’s also the mystery.

We can’t forget that. I remember one of my teachers talking at length about the way the ocean opens up a conduit to the deepest recesses of our psyches.

Apparently, in the midst of a beach day, we sometimes don’t even realize all the goodness we’re getting.

But since it’s an experience that almost universally satisfies our values at a deep level, the contentment and pleasure continues long afterwards, when we recall memories of our time there or look at photos of the beach.

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Isn’t it great that we can visit the beach not just in real space and time, but in our imaginations as well, and reap many of the same benefits?

I know that’s true because simply writing this and remembering my day at the beach a few weeks ago brings me a deep sense of peace and tranquility.

I like to think that I share that with the Amish family, wherever they are.

And next time one of my clients feels stressed or worried, I’m going to suggest they recall their last visit to the beach. Maybe I’ll even start stocking up on beach images to keep in my office!

What do you remember about your last visit to the beach?

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10 thoughts on “why we all need a day at the beach

  1. The beach is my happy place. It’s the image I hold in my mind when I need to staunch stress or take a momentary escape. I associate it with peace and joy and laughter and friendship and family and a million other good things. I’m not sure this is the last time I was at the beach, but the image that’s in my head is a group of us, young and old, roasting marshmallows around a bonfire on the beach. Doesn’t get any better than that!

  2. I loved all the pictures and your story about the Amish family. It’s true you don’t think of the Amish coming to the beach, but why not?

    The beach is my soul place; it’s where I do to recharge my batteries. I love everything about it and you are right, thinking of the beach or looking at my pictures brings back that tranquility.

  3. Just reading your words has me feeling more relaxed and content. I lived about an hour away from a beach as a child and my dad loved to surprise us EARLY on Saturday mornings with a breakfast picnic packed and ready to go. We’d take the camp stove and cook our eggs and bacon on the seawall as we watched the sunrise. It was lovely.

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