Remember those days when kids played outside? Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, we spent our summers and springs out on the stoop with our neighbors, inventing games with the cracks in the concrete. We chased the ice cream man down the block, and ran into the backyard gardens of our neighbors. We played with sticks and handballs, climbed up the trees, rode our bikes, and scraped our knees. By the early 90s, Nintendo had already had the Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat, and soon, our days outside became less and less. Our imaginary games were replaced with videos, our friends were replaced with characters with special skills, but because our roots were still with the outside breeze, a doorbell ring from the neighborhood kids would always trump even the highest level.
As my generation reaches our mid-thirties and early-forties, time spent outside has been replaced by jobs, raising kids, and smartphones. But our roots will always be with the trees and the cool cement. We had our time in the sun. Unfortunately, for many of us, this had led to rumination. Rumination is the mental cycle of replaying negative thoughts in our minds over and over again. For many people our age, it has led to anxiety and depression, and the world of technology has not aided. In fact, technology has further burdened us into believing everyone else is leading a perfect life while we toil back into our smartphone, waiting for the next email or social media comment to appear to give us purpose. But the truth is that healing has always been outside of our doors.
John Burroughs said: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” According to a study from Stanford University in 2015, the best way to battle rumination is through positive distraction, and while strolling through nature may not seem to be so distracting, the words of Thoreau, Longfellow, Wordsworth, Whitman, Emerson, and all of the other naturalists from our past still ring true: Nature heals our soul.
According to a New York Times article published a little under a year ago, that study at Stanford University proved: “[that] the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.”
Interestingly enough, with the recent publishing of the smartphone app “PokemonGO,” people of all ages are finding their way back to nature – myself included. This game marries the concept of being a Pokemon Master and someone who explores. A childhood fantasy for many, we would imagine ourselves scouring the world to find wild Pokemon characters and forming bonds with these creatures as we trained them. The new PokemonGO requires players to actually step outside and explore various parts of their neighborhood in order to gain levels and new Pokemon. Forcing myself to go for a walk this morning to capture new Pokemon, I found others walking with their phones in tow (in a safe manner), and it was obvious to me they were all playing the same game. It encourages walks through nature, as parks and beaches offer up rare Pokemon finds. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, friends whose ages span from 18 through 50 were posting photos of their rare collections and the unique places where these Pokemon have been found.
Suddenly, this game which has been taking the internet by storm, is encouraging people to find their way back to nature. The camaraderie of exploring the great outdoors and sharing our finds is creating a perfect harmonious blend of the digital age with the age of existentialists. In a way, PokemonGO is battling head-to-head with the depression and rumination found from the toils of an internet-driven world by forcing people to physically exit their homes and reinvigorate their love of nature.