Open Your Eyes to Paradise

"If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it." This quote is from Willy Wonka in the film version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I love the songs in the film and one of the best is the number that Willy Wonka himself sings as they first enter the factory. Everything about the scene is of pure amazement and Wonka's words reflect that perfectly. He comes across as kind, charming and fun and is everything you initially expect from someone in his position. This quote is particularly powerful though, as it showcases there is true beauty in everything, with paradise being found anywhere if you look for it.

Earlier on this week I arrived in school and walked across the grounds to my office. I relish this time in the morning because it is so quiet and I get to appreciate the beauty of the grounds. It was the morning of a most incredible sunrise, pictured below as it lit up the sky behind Manor Place (photograph courtesy of Tristan Morris). It was truly breath-taking and stopped me in my tracks.

When was the last time you stopped and looked closely at what was around you? Really closely. When did you give yourself a minute or two to take in something incredible?

Life is busy for all of us. The dishwasher always seems to need emptying, there is the report still to complete that was promised a few days ago for your line manager or an urgent errand that should only take a few minutes but takes most of the morning. Sometimes I seem to spend the majority of my waking hours with my head down, trying to tick things off my list, inadvertently taking on the position of someone who just wants to get through, with a sort of “head down and keep going” mentality. Living life like this can makes us feel like a hamster on a wheel, constantly running and getting nowhere.

I passionately believe in taking time occasionally to appreciate the paradise and beauty that lies around us. What we see, hear, breathe and smell can impact mood and stress levels, which directly affect how we lead our lives. In particular, our relationship with nature – how much we notice, think about and appreciate our natural surroundings – is a critical factor in preventing stress. In this case, nature has a very wide definition. It can mean green spaces such as parks, woodland or forests as well as blue spaces like rivers, wetlands, beaches or canals. It also includes trees on an urban street, private gardens, verges and indoor plants or window boxes. Even watching nature documentaries has been shown to be good for our mental health.

‘Fresh air and exercise’ has long been recommended as a way for many of us to feel better, physically and mentally. Now evidence suggests that the quality of our relationship with nature is part of the reason for its positive impact on our wellbeing. Researchers use the term ‘connectedness’ to describe the ideal relationship. ‘Connectedness’ refers to the way we relate to and experience nature. A strong connection with nature means feeling a close relationship or an emotional attachment to our natural surroundings. Research shows that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile.

The evidence of positive effects from nature includes studies on specific psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and mood disorder. Access to nature has also been found to improve sleep and reduce stress, increase happiness and reduce negative emotions, promote positive social interactions and even help generate a sense of meaning to life. Being in green environments boosts various aspects of thinking, including attention, memory and creativity, in people both with and without depression.
We should, indeed, take opportunities to deliberately stop and look around at our paradise, as Wonka suggests. The benefits are unimaginable.