Last month I bought a “happy lamp” to fill my office cubicle with the light of a fake sun. This form of light therapy is supposed to mimic the effects of sunlight and improve your mood accordingly. The disease it tries to cure is SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, which usually occurs in winter when the days are darker, sunlight is milder, and time indoors seems preferable to braving the cold.
You’ve probably felt it on a rainy day. String together a seemingly endless set of rainy days, and your mood and energy level drop. SAD.
Does the lamp work? Maybe. But I’m not sure that sunlight is the only thing I’m missing. What about fresh air, greenery, water, and wildlife? I’m feeling less SAD and more NAD, or nature deficit disorder.
Unlike SAD, this disorder is not diagnosed clinically, and debate continues about what it really is. The term comes from a journalist’s perspective (author Richard Louv) instead of from experimentation. Grad students, get on this!
Cubes of Death
I have lived in worked in very natural environments and very artificial ones. My current
situation is one of the most artificial, and we joke that it’s a “cubicle farm.” One gray cube blends into another and another, and most of us don’t have a window to light our way. It feels very much like a cage. It is a dead zone. The hallways have zero plants. The windows cannot open, ever. It takes 16 flights of stairs and passing through a security gate before I can take a breath of fresh air.
Because our office works on marine conservation, I’m surrounded by photos of fish, whales, and other attractive, natural settings. I’m not sure if the pretty images make things better, or if the extreme contrast makes things feel even more desperate and disconnected.
Today I plan to walk my dog into Rock Creek Park, a lovely, wooded oasis in the middle of Washington, D.C. My dog loves the walk, but really it’s the dog taking me to see the trees and the water.
Why Build What is Given
When I think of the greatest palaces and most impressive places built by humans, nothing comes close to even one flower. Why is that? Why can’t man-made “human nature” replace Nature? Shouldn’t we know best what we need?
Apparently we deceive ourselves into separation from natural inspiration. We build cathedrals for spiritual life, yet these spaces cannot compare to the wonders of nature.
I wish there were a bottle of Nature Supplement that I could drink to fix my deficit. I wish that my happy lamp could replace the Sun. I wish that I could become as free as wild fish, whose avatars hang in my cube. I miss being surrounded by life.