Water means happiness. Image via Adobe Stock

Get your feet wet: Why are water-based destinations so desirable?

Research shows that humans are happier when in, on or near water.


Water means happiness. Image via Adobe Stock

Think back to your favourite holidays. Swimming in freshwater lakes. Snorkelling in the pristine waters of the Indian Ocean. The refreshing spray of the Victoria Falls touching your skin. Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. The sight of the thundering curtain of water cascading over Niagara Falls. A scenic river cruise on the Seine River in Paris. Barging on canals in the French countryside. A canal ride through the bustling city of Amsterdam. Cruising the cool waters of the Caribbean.

If any of these came to mind, there is a common theme. They all include water.


Can we explain why we are drawn to certain destinations? The answer is revealed in research which was recently published in a scientific journal.

In a study published by the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of The United Kingdom, researchers provide evidence that being near water is beneficial to human health. From their observations, researchers found that individuals living near the sea are generally happier and healthier than people who live inland.

Marine biologist, Wallace Nichols states, “Research has proven that spending time near water is essential to achieving an elevated and sustained happiness.”

Nichols writes about the effects that water has on our state of mind and our overall health, in his book Blue Mind: The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do.


Colours have a calming effect on us. Colours like blue and green are associated with feelings of calmness and relaxation. Researchers point to the existence of different states of mind. Nichols refers to the “blue mind” and the “red mind”.

Nichols says, “The term ‘blue mind’ describes the mildly meditative state we fall into when near, in, on or under water. It’s the antidote to what we refer to as the ‘red mind’, which is the anxious, over-connected and over-stimulated state that defines the new normal of modern life.”

Many activities in and around water also trigger the release of endorphins, which elevate our mood. Swimming, surfing, snorkelling or just walking on the beach are some of the activities that cause our brains to release endorphins that lead to the feeling of happiness.


When we select holiday destinations we seek to escape to our “happy places” and to check in with our “blue minds”, according to the research. For a large number of people, happiness is assimilated with water.  

South Africa’s best water-side destinations

Below is a selection of some of South Africa’s favourite spots worth visiting this summer.

  • Langebaan, West Coast
  • Kraalbaai, West Coast
  • Robberg Beach, Plettenberg Bay
  • Knysna, Garden Route
  • Nature’s Valley, Garden Route
  • Cape St Francis, Eastern Cape
  • Hole in the Wall, Wild Coast
  • Haga Haga, Wild Coast
  • St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal
  • Sodwana Bay, KwaZulu-Natal
  • Thonga Beach, KwaZulu-Natal
  • Loskop Dam, Mpumalanga
  • Sterkfontein Dam, Drakensberg
  • Hartebeespoort Dam, NorthWest Province

Now that inter-provincial travel is allowed, it might be time for you to dip your toes in some water and see how it affects your mood.