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Why Do Creatives Love Nature So Much? Science, Psychology, and Nostalgia

by Hanna Brooks Olsen

camping good for creativity

Image via Flickr

Not everyone — ok, almost no one — can pull a Thoreau and go running into the woods in the pursuit of a deliberate life. But in the summer time, many of us can take a few blissful days off to retreat into the great outdoors and refresh our minds. From incredible outdoor photographers to the proud legacy of the transcendentalists, artists of all sorts have been flocking to national parks and remote locales for decades. But what is it about nature that calls to creatives, specifically?

We already know that time off is great for rejuvenating creativity — though just leaving the office (but taking your work email with you) doesn’t really count. Instead, for optimal rebooting, your brain needs to idle for a while.

“Idleness isn’t a luxury,” says Lawton Ursery, writing for Forbes, “but rather a necessity in order to be at your peak. It’s backed by neuroscience. Idleness truly makes your brain function better.”

And, of course, where better to idle than in the quiet serenity of a beautiful hike in the woods?

Nature might also be a prime destination for creative folks because of the primal pleasures it offers,  like the smells, sounds, and sights that greet your senses when you, say, don’t have a phone in your hand. When you hit the trail, you can expect at least one sensory boost; color theory expert Tobi Fairley explains that the color green has been linked to more creative thinking.

“One of the reasons it’s really important to be careful in the colors we choose is that we spend more time in our homes than we ever did before, and inside, period,” says Tobi. “We’re not out in nature and having the ability to experience Mother Nature’s color palette.” The solution? Take it outside and look at what nature has to offer.

And finally, nature triggers fond memories for many of us, which can help spur further ideas for the future.

“It doesn’t seem to matter what someone’s politics or religion is, they want to tell me about the treehouse they had as a kid, if they are old enough—for the younger people that is less likely to be true,” noted Richard Louv in an interview with National Geographic,  author of the bestsellers Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, “This is the only issue I’ve seen that brings people together.”

Though it’s kind of pejorative now, nostalgia has been found to improve positive feelings, and, as a result, aid in creativity and innovation.

“Studies show that when people indulge in nostalgia, their positive mood increases and they become more optimistic about the future,” writes Rod Judkins, MA. “Looking backwards helps us to look forwards.”

Even if you can’t go full-on Walden this summer, Louv recommends enjoying the natural surroundings of wherever you live — even if if it’s just the local park or common green area near your office. Even just going for a walk around the blog and letting your brain idle while you look at the trees (or planters) can help you reset and reboot.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.