‘Awe Walks’ Might Just Be the Mood-Boosting Activity We All Need Right Now

When you’re spending so much time indoors, you don’t get to experience “awe”—aka “a positive emotion elicited when in the presence of vast things not immediately understood”—as often. But researchers wanted to see if going on “awe walks” could boost participants’ emotional well-being, and they found the small act can make a big impact on your happiness levels.

In a study published in the journal Emotion, older adults went on weekly 15-minute “awe walks” for eight weeks. The participants took selfies at the beginning, middle, and end of each walk, as well as filled out surveys with details about their walks, including any emotions they experienced.

“Awe is a positive emotion triggered by awareness of something vastly larger than the self and not immediately understandable—such as nature, art, music, or being caught up in a collective act such as a ceremony, concert or political march,” said study author Dacher Keltner, PhD, a UC Berkeley psychologist, in a press release. “Experiencing awe can contribute to a host of benefits, including an expanded sense of time and enhanced feelings of generosity, well-being, and humility.”

“Experiencing awe can contribute to a host of benefits, including an expanded sense of time and enhanced feelings of generosity, well-being, and humility.” —Dacher Keltner, PhD

The researchers found those who went on an awe walk reported greater joy (and had broader selfie smiles!) during their walks, as well as more positive emotions and less distress outside their walks, than those who went on regular walks. All because they took a step back and noticed some of the wonders around them, like the beautiful fall colors.

“Experiencing awe is such a simple practice—just taking a moment to look out the window or pausing to consider the technological marvels that surround us—and we now show it can have measurable effects on our emotional well-being,” said lead study author Virginia Sturm, PhD, an associate professor at UCSF. “A little more joy and a little more connectedness with the world around us is something all of us could use these days.”

According to Strum, this is something anyone can try to add more joy into their lives. Aside from getting you some exercise, it also couldn’t be better for your mind. “This suggests promoting the experience of awe could be an extremely low-cost tool for improving the emotional health of older adults through a simple shift in mindset,” she says. And just think: The study was based on a weekly awe walk, so the mental health-boosting benefits that could come from doing one daily have gotta be good.

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