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wallace j. nichols water benefitsYour book is titled Blue Mind. Can you explain that term?
“Blue mind” refers to an intuitive idea most if not all of us have experienced. If “red mind” is where we live most of the time—our active, engaged existence in which we are handling many streams of information at the same time throughout our day—blue mind is the feeling we get when we walk away from the auditory and visual stimulation. It’s a feeling of relaxation, of bandwidth being freed up in our brain—bandwidth we can use for creativity. We get that feeling when we’re in or near water.

So we relax, and that’s a good thing, but our brains are actually being affected.
Yes, and that’s why daydreaming is such a good thing to do if you’re a writer, engineer, entrepreneur, or artist. The “aha” moments tend to come during those times. In fact, companies like Google require employees to take time out to daydream because it’s so good for brain function. But another option is to just get yourself to the water. Your water may vary in terms of its size and availability—it could be a fountain that you have plugged in or the Pacific Ocean at the end of your block. But when we’re listening to or watching water, there’s a pattern, which is soothing, but also enough irregularity to hold our attention. Psychologists call this “soft fascination”—it holds our attention in a way that allows us to achieve innovation, insight, and the feelings of awe and wonder that put us into what I call the blue mind state.

Your work involves not only studying water but protecting it. How are we doing with that, as a nation and a planet?
I like to emphasize success stories before I clobber people with bad news. Our legislative protections for clean water are one of our great successes as a country. We have seen rivers and lakes, harbors and bays restored. We’ve seen waterways go from burning to functioning as an ecosystem. All over the world people are recognizing that fixing our blue space is a good idea—not only because it’s good for the economy and our health and hygiene but also because of the cognitive, emotional, and psychological benefits that make life worth living.

And the bad news?From the drought in California to the lack of access to clean water in Africa, every corner of the globe is facing a water-related crisis. We are contaminating our water with industrial and agricultural pollutants, which makes us sick and causes the aquatic life that calls it home to suffer as well. Valuing healthy water is not a small idea; it’s an idea for everybody with some urgency behind it.

What can we do in our own families to value our water?
The best thing we can do as parents is help our kids fall in love with it—because if they don’t, they’re not going to care. And they won’t grow up wanting to protect it if they don’t care about it. I fell in love with nature as a kid because I played around in creeks and checked out frogs and felt like Superman when I was out there. I was the best version of my human self.
But in our modern society kids are playing in nature less and less. They have their nose in a tablet rather than a creek, and I would like to see us turn that around. So just go out there and jump into the water with your kids. That’s the thing they will remember.

Learn more about Nichols’s “blue marble” initiative here.

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