So Just What Is Tranquillity and why is it so important?

 

Experiencing peace, calmness, serenity or tranquillity, is something that is simply understood, almost taken for granted that ‘we know what we mean’……

It’s that special something, almost ethereal, something out there, something to aspire to being, worry-free, a calming influence in the madness of stress and anxiety. It’s something we hope to experience in our daily lives, …. It's more than simply a feeling, its that special something we just know, almost instinctively is good for us ……

And for almost 1 in 2 of tourists to our UK countryside, the key reason for their visits, is to experience a sense of tranquillity.  It’s that special characteristic that makes rural spaces so different from city breaks helping to boost rural tourism that in the UK directly supports 380,000 jobs and £13.8 billion annually to the economy.….

 

The feelings expressed for tranquillity are universal and have no cultural, linguistic, political or geographic boundaries ……

For some it’s a religious or spiritual feature of life…. So just a few examples, we find the Serenity Prayer in Catholicism, in Judaism we pray for tranquillity for the inhabitants of Israel, and in Buddhism, passaddhi directly refers to tranquillity of the body, thoughts and consciousness on the path to enlightenment…..in the spiritual practice of Shanti, peace and tranquillity is celebrated as a way of finding inner peace….

For others, it’s purely a state of mind, of psychological or spiritual calm despite stresses and strains of a situation. It is directly opposite to anxiety, a state of being that allows our minds to perform at an optimum level with positive outcomes….so the peace of mind that comes with tranquillity links with feelings of happiness, of being simply, content…….

Historically, its benefits for our wellbeing have been known for centuries – as far back as the Ancient Greeks, Democritus, for many considered the father of modern science, Euthymia, a tranquil mental state was emphasised as one of human’s life’s goals and the practicality for achieving Ataraxia – a tranquil state for soldiers entering into battle is recorded.

Today, building on research in psychology, from Kaplan & Kaplan in the 1980s, increasing attention has been placed on the restorative effects that tranquil natural/near natural environments can have on our mental states.  Their theory founded on the principle of being fascinated by environments, was extended further by Herzog in the 1990s, who related the pleasant experience of sensory input from these spaces, requiring no great cognitive effort on the part of the observer as enhancing our wellbeing.

This focus on natural environments and the tranquil experiences they can provide for in abundance, is resulting in increasing research attention and resulting evidence that is demonstrating that exposure to natural environments can make a significant contribution to our physical health and psychological wellbeing across a wide age range.  For examples: Louv, through a critical discussion on ‘nature-deficit-disorder’ in children, emphasises the importance of their being able to engage with restorative environments. Ullrich identified that stress (as measured by blood pressure, muscle tension and skin conductance response), improved significantly quicker for research participants when observing natural surroundings rather than traffic or shopping areas.

The few examples shown here on the importance of enjoying tranquillity in natural/near natural environments and in our countryside on our health, our wellbeing and through its key economic contribution, to our rural economies, is equally reflected in an assortment of policy and planning guidance documents governing UK authorities’ activities.  Amongst these, the Health and Social Care Act 2012, has delegated duties to local authorities to improve public health and reduce health inequalities and to achieve this aim, has introduced the formal establishment of co-working of public health bodies and planning authorities.  Concurrently the National Planning Policy Framework (2012) emphasises the need for authorities to manage and safeguard spaces of public value, identifying tranquil spaces specifically for identification and management.

These activities are particularly notable in relation to how protected areas and designated landscapes such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are managed.  In these cases, authorities have to be able to not only identify tranquil spaces but to continue to manage for maintaining these areas whilst they also have to balance economic and infrastructural development activities in the countryside.

But……implementing policies on tranquillity are complex. Tranquillity is a very personal interpretation, effected by gender, age , educational background, origin of residence, nationality and past experiences with accessing the countryside. We also suspect that many interpretations will be affected by a person’s existing state of health and wellbeing.

This challenge was taken up in partnership with the Dorset Council GIS team, and the team of the Dorset AONB in 2013.  Funded through the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) our first tranquillity research project, Broadly Engaging with Tranquillity, was conducted over two years and collated more than 22,000 views from authorities, residents in and visitors to Purbeck, Dorset.  These views were mapped and modelled in Geographical Information Systems and the results have been used to inform a number of strategies, consultations and policies developed by the AONB teams.

Through our subsequent project BETER, we have now been able to automate our research design resulting in a cost-effective and speedy method for authorities to be able to progress their own tranquillity studies in other rural and urban areas.

Two of the projects, facilitated by BETER, are Transforming Tranquillity and Peaceful Paths & Sitting Spots………….

For more information on our exciting journey on tranquillity research, on any of the projects we are progressing now and planned for the future, or on the potential to get involved in any of our volunteer, researcher opportunities, please contact denise.hewlett@winchester.ac.uk