My favorite place happens to be my grandmother’s old allotment, which was located by a river and had its own small jetty from which we used to launch a rowing boat for early evening excursions. Every time I feel depressed or upset, I think back on the balmy summer evenings spent on the veranda of my grandmother’s small garden chalet.
My mind’s eye sees the early evening mists rising from the steaming river and I can practically hear the waterfowl calling with their eerie voices. In the distance a river barge chug-chugs past the bridge, sending a miniature tidal wave towards my grandmother’s jetty that makes our rowing boat bob up and down. It is undoubtedly my “safe place”.
Why can I recall this place better than any other from my childhood? It was neither a large landscaped park, nor did it contain a richly furnished, stylish chalet. Perhaps what I remember most is the quiet, the calm that came over me in nature, where few man-made noises disturbed the peace.
When we escape the constant noise bombardment from traffic, supermarket music, noisy neighbors, dogs barking and police sirens howling, we feel safe, calm and considerably less stressed.
New research undertaken by the researchers of the European Commission suggests that sounds do affect our minds to quite a large extent. Places where we felt totally calm and at ease are therefore more likely to stay in our minds as our favorite places than others.
This new research suggests that “we may even have evolved—like other animals—to pay attention to the annoying sounds, because they indicate danger. People can become finely attuned to the sounds that most disturb them, heightening their annoyance. In the same way, an absence of pleasant sounds may also put us on high alert, because it offers no guarantees of safety.”
Interestingly, the study also puts forward the idea that we may be more irritated by the lack of control we feel we have over disturbances in a given location than by the actual levels of sound themselves.
While more research is needed in this field, it is likely that the lack of control over environmental noise levels is contributing to the high stress levels people feel in densely populated areas.
As a child I not only felt safe and cherished in my grandmother’s garden; I felt had a degree of control over my immediate environment and its noise levels. Chase a couple of ducks and you’ll make them quack loudly. Tease the dog and he’ll bark.
This was a learning curve that put me squarely in the driving seat as the person responsible for how much noise there would be in my immediate environment. As an adult I no longer have this feeling of control. This is the reason why the image of my grandma’s garden always comes up first, when I think of favorite places I’ve visited.
We remember the places we were happiest and the least stressed far better than all the rest, because they are the places where we felt most comforted and safe.