The Science Behind “The Beach is My Happy Place”

By Cindy Bilbao

sea glass on beach

“Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think.”

~Robert Henri

All beachcombers agree that the beach is their “happy” place. We get starry eyed when we think about our next visit there and for most, just being away from our day to day routine is reason enough to go to the beach. But aside from being removed from the daily grind, why do we all experience the same genuine feelings of peacefulness when we are at the beach? Exactly what is it about the beach that actually makes us happy? Why do we turn to the water for a sense of calm and clarity? Is there more to it than simply not being at work, or doing laundry, or chauffeuring the kids? I decided that this was worth investigating.

stairs to beach

Negative Ions (Are a Good Thing)

Once we arrive at the shore, who can resist taking deep breaths, full of that fresh, salty air? Well, it turns out that there is something interesting going on in that air at the beach. It contains an abundance of negative ions that are actually really good for you despite their name! Negative ions are not something we can see, feel, or smell but their presence improves our health and well-being. They occur when the energy from sunlight, rainfall or waves causes air molecules to break apart and then re-attach themselves to another molecule, causing it to gain an electrical charge that is known as a negative ion. According to Dr. Pierce Howard, author of The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, high concentrations of negative ions are associated with high energy and positive mood. And Denise Mann, writer for WebMD, and author of the article, Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes, explained that exposure to negative ions can create biochemical reactions within our bodies that can help alleviate depression and relieve stress. Just to give you some perspective, the average home contains a maximum of hundreds of ions. How many are found near the ocean? Tens of thousands!



Imagine yourself there on the beach searching for sea glass…. The one thing that really defines the beach is the huge expanse of open sky; usually, there’s no shaded woods or buildings or anything that blocks the light. Other than needing to wear sunscreen to protect our skin, there are some healthy benefits involved with basking in all that light at the shore: When sunlight hits our eyes, it’s converted into electrical impulses that travel directly to the part of our brain that regulates our nervous system, stimulating it to produce certain hormones. According to an article written by Rachel Nall for titled, What Are the Benefits of Sunlight, sunlight triggers the release of serotonin in our bodies. This can help a person feel calmer and focused; it helps to improve our moods and fights stress. Sunlight can even help in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

blue sky beach

The Color Blue

When we’re talking about the beach, the color blue is what comes to mind immediately because of the huge expanse of water and sky.  According to Faber Birren in his book, Color and Human Response, the color blue lowers blood pressure, improves concentration and encourages deep thinking and studying. Colour Affects, a company in London that studies the psychological effects of colors says blue affects us mentally. Blue is soothing, it stimulates clear thoughts and light blue especially, calms the mind and can enhance creativity.

There’s more—but first you need to understand a little about light and color. Color is white light and the white light from the sun is made up of a rainbow of colors that travel to us in the form of wavelengths. The colors we see are the reflected or scattered wavelengths of light that have not been absorbed by the object we are viewing. When light hits our eyes, each color’s wavelength is converted into electrical impulses that travel directly to our brain, and we know from earlier that when light travels to our brain and it stimulates hormone production. This is significant—and now stay with me here; I know this is very scientific—the next step is to know that each color has its own different wavelength and the shorter the wavelength, the stronger the underlying physical effect on our body is according to So can you guess where I’m going with this? Blue is the color that has one of the shortest wavelengths and thus the strongest physical effect! And I surmise that when we are at the beach, surrounded by all that blue it can really boost our bodies’ production of hormones that help us feel good! This may also explain why the color blue is favored most over all other colors!

I See the Light!

Though you may never have questioned it, you may have noticed that many artist communities are situated along our beautiful coastlines. Talk to any artist and they’ll tell you that the light at the shore is far superior to land-locked light. Could there be anything else about the light at the beach that we should know?

I spoke with Bobby Baker, a well-known Cape Cod photographer ( to see if he agreed that beach light has special qualities. He described that light as “palpable, something that you could almost reach out and touch.” He added, “It triggers warmth that’s not a temperature, which is something that inland light does not do.” He used descriptive words such as “lush and rich” when talking about the light in Cape Cod and says that he has at times gotten so caught up in the richness of the light and the mood it creates, that he almost misses a shot.

As both a photographer and a beachcomber, I spend a lot of time at the beach and I can definitely feel the effects of being surrounded by all that blue water and sky and light and negative ions. If you’re feeling like you could use a mood booster, I would readily advise, “Get yourself to the beach and go look for that sea glass!” Go on, get happy.

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine January/February 2018 issue.

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