Ecopsychology

Had I known, when I scribbled my college major on some form, that being an engineer meant spending your whole life indoors, in a mechanically ventilated box, in front a computer screen I may have never agreed to become one.

They were preparing us for this life in college I just never realized it. In my first years of college, I’d cut class to go to the beach, skip lectures to surf, paddle on the weekends instead of study. But classes got time consuming. Eventually I had to choose between an active outdoor lifestyle and the nerdy indoorsy professional career. I’ve yet to figure out how to have both.

In this industry, it’s hard to find a balance. Indeed, rarely do I meet an engineer that’s not overweight and out of shape. Rarely do I meet an engineer that has any appreciation for nature, let alone a profound connection with it.

When I first started working the 8-5 cubicle job, I hated it. I will go so far as to say that I felt as though it was killing a part of me. Eight hours of breathing frigid, stale air under fluorescent lights staring at an LCD sucks, especially when it is 80 degrees F outside, sunny, and the ocean is glassy. It’s been over a year now, and while I have gotten used to it I don’t think I’ll ever learn to enjoy it.

I rarely get to leave the office before the sun is setting. This leaves only the weekends to enjoy time outside. I try to make it a point to go to the beach or for a hike, things I spent most of my childhood doing, because I am afraid of losing this connection to nature and to the local culture that I grew up with.

But how does everyone else cope? Maybe the engineer’s lifestyle is not a sacrifice for most engineers. Come to think of it, the people I hiked/ran/paddled/surfed/swam with were never engineers. Come to think of it, none of my classmates did this stuff. They all thought I was a crazy slacker, and the athletes I knew were all surprised I was a nerdy engineering major. Why?

Some of the engineers I meet have kids. A licensed engineer makes a decent living and can provide a comfortable lifestyle for their kids. Most of the time these kids get all the neat gadgets – laptops, cameras, cell phones, video games, etc etc etc – but don’t get to spend much time outside. What happens when you spend your childhood in front an LCD screen instead of in the mountains or oceans or rivers? Are you never able to develop an appreciation for nature? Is the engineer’s lifestyle ecologically stunting people?

Today is Saturday in Hawaii. It has been a long time since I’ve breathed fresh air. I mulled all this over on my “hike” (the “trail” is a paved asphalt road) up to the Makapu’u Lighthouse.

Is there a connection between the amount of time you spend close to nature as a kid and your appreciation of nature later in life, your lifestyle, your health? Has anyone studied that, I wondered. Is there a connection between the time you spend close to nature and how materialistic you become? There was a time in my life when I watched TV constantly. I became very materialistic and lost touch with nature for a while. And so I wonder…how powerful is advertising? Can putting someone like my brother, who grew up in the same environment as I did yet is very materialistic today, in a ‘nature rehab’ free his mind and reconnect him with nature?

For some reason, I bought a Scientific American magazine before coming home and went on their website, which I’ve never done, looking for an e-version of one of the magazine articles to send to a friend and found this:

Does Consumerism Make Us Crazy?

Interesting timing. Apparently, there is a whole field dedicated to answering these kinds of questions called ‘ecopsychology’. It would be interesting to read some relevant studies, but I haven’t found any yet.

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