Years of research suggests that humans feel relaxed, happy, and even healthier while exposed to nature. Two hours per week of nature immersion alleviates stress. Spending time outdoors in a safe setting lowers blood pressure, enhances immune systems, increases self-esteem, reduces feelings of isolation, and improves mood. Why do we gain all of these benefits from simply existing outside? 

If you think about migratory birds and bears going into hibernation when the conditions are right, it seems obvious that humans have similar instincts. We follow generations of societies living outdoors and these reactions from environmental conditions may go back longer than we think. A group of scientists in the European Molecular Biology Organisation, engineered roundworms to carry a gene that would make them glow under ultraviolet light when exposed to warmer temperatures (77 degrees F). When they moved the roundworms to cooler temperatures, they didn’t light up nearly as much. Surprisingly, even after 14 generations of roundworm reproduction, the offspring glowed when exposed again to warmer climates. The offspring retained the environmental memory even though they had never experienced it themselves. It makes sense that humans could access genetic memories from when our ancestors thrived as a part of nature even if they haven’t spent spent very much time enjoying the outdoors. 
Access to ancestors’ experiences may be significant in shaping individuality. Although how and where we grew up also influences our phobias, some people are still more frightened of snakes or spiders than others. Perhaps their past relatives lived in an ecosystem where those animals were more dangerous and those who stayed away from them stayed alive and then had children. This could explain why some people love to escape to the coast, a mountain, or waterfall while some prefer to observe in a quiet forest. Even chickens, when incubated on unfamiliar ecosystems, have lower hatchability rate. Although they have never experienced different elevations or climates themselves, their genetic memory dictates their ability to hatch. Some surprising traits may come hardwired into our DNA without us even knowing. 

Individual traits as well as simple universal pleasures could come from the past. Everyone appreciates an eye-catching yellow, red, purple, and orange sunset. Since humans see poorly in the dark, a sunset was historically a bright signal for us to be vigilant at night. Although there is a little variance in human night vision, it’s comforting to know that we are not alone in enjoying this phenomenon. Next time you step outside and experience a strong sense of comfort, or fear, try imagining how your DNA could have influenced it! 

By Gabi Esparza