Arguments for Adventure: Your Brain Prefers Places, Not Things

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The best things in life are free, the adage goes. Nature is a completely free resource to us as human beings on planet earth. Our only costs are getting there, having the right gear, and maybe paying a park fee in order to support the maintenance and protection of nature. All over the world their are sprawling miles upon miles of wondrous, awe-inspiring nature. Getting caught up in the city life of urban modernity can cause us to forget the natural wonders of the natural world. We can easily become consumed by the pursuit of money and commodity instead of recognizing that much of our basic happiness can come from our free, natural resources.

When we choose to live an adventure lifestyle, we are choosing to truly live life. We realize the monotony of urban life and come to deeply value the intrinsic variety of nature. The more time we spend in the outdoors or traveling to foreign lands, whether domestic or international, the more our brain grows in favor of that life. Returning home from our latest adventure, we might even experience PAD- post-adventure depression and immediately long for the next opportunity to set our soul on fire.

The Guardian reports on a recent brain imaging study conducted by Surrey University and the National Trust in the UK that examined over 2,000 people and how they react to places as opposed to things. Brain scans found that when participants looked at images of places which had meaning to them in some way, the left amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, and parahippocampal place area where all activated. The amygdala helps regulate emotion while the medial prefrontal cortex decides if those emotions are positive or negative. Meanwhile, the parahippocampal place area makes sense of personal space.  

Belonging, feelings of physical and emotional safety, as well as a deep tugging of the soul to the place were common when participants were shown their favorite places. According to the article, most people agreed that the places they were seeing were a part of them, that they felt safe there, and that they felt drawn to that place, as if by a magnetic pull.

John Muir famously said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” Spending time in nature, that is, spending time in places, rather than among things, we are really building a relationship with a place. John Muir fell in love with what is now Yosemite National Park. His heart belonged in the High Sierras and called him there like a tug on his soul. Places we spend time in become part of us and part of our recovery, creating meaning in our lives and separating us from the material world. The sense of self we leave in places reminds us that there is more to us than our daily lives. Returning to places over and over, we really return to ourselves.


Tree House Recovery is located in the beautiful Pacific Northwest in Portland. Surrounded by some of the most stunning nature in the country, men in our residential treatment programs find freedom from addiction as they learn to create sustainable recovery through sustainable change. Call us today for information: (503) 850-2474

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