Sometimes it’s one of those simple everyday occurrences that can bring some much to our life but we don’t fully appreciate it. This is exactly the case with ‘Awe Walks’. I only read about these this autumn and they are so simple and yet make such a positive difference to people’s lives.
An awe walk is where you take a walk in nature with the conscious intention to have an awe-inspiring experience. Before we look at the process of completing an awe walk and the related benefits, let’s gain a better understanding of what awe is.
Awe is one of the ten positive emotions identified by Barbara Fredrickson and she says we experience awe when we come across goodness on a grand scale and this makes us feel small and humble. This can be from witnessing acts of humanity such as the work of Mother Teresa and the kindness shown by many, after unexpected disasters. It can also come from seeing the beauty of nature such as witnessing a stunning sunset, a great waterfall or as in my recent case, looking down on a rainbow.
Earlier this year. I was driving through the countryside and arrived at the top of a steep hill and noticed this amazing rainbow (see picture above) behind me and below me, yes below me! I was looking down on a rainbow. I jumped out of the car and stood transfixed, at first unable to take in what I was seeing. I felt that I was witnessing something very special and rare, at least for my part of the world.
That was a beautiful experience, but it’s not one I have every day, so how can we create more awe in our lives? This is where the awe walks come in. In a recent study described in The Psychologist, it was found that older adults who deliberately set their intention to seek out awe in their walks were more likely to experience it. The participants of this study who sought out awe reported less stress and more positive emotions including gratitude, compassion and joy when compared to a control group. From my previous articles, you will know that positive emotions not only make us feel better in the moment, they also act as a buffer and protect us in times of future stress.
Another finding that amazed me was that the participants were asked to take pictures of themselves while on their walks and it was found that those people who had set their intention to seek out awe actually included more background and less of themselves in the pictures than the control group. This suggests that those people were in fact feeling small, yet a part of something on a grand scale and wanted to capture that grandness.
Seek Out Awe
I believe that we need the health-boosting benefits of positive emotions such as awe even more than usual to keep us mentally strong during the winter months. As the days are shorter, we may have to search harder for awe-inspiring experiences. However, that conscious deliberate effort can focus our mind and help us to stay in the moment, noticing things that we may otherwise have missed, such as a snowdrop pushing itself up and out into the open, or the pattern ice makes at the edge of a puddle.
Give awe walks a go. I’m definitely going to and I’d love to hear how you get on.
Fredrickson, B. (2011). Positivity. Oxford: Oneworld Publications
Young, E. (2020). ‘Awe walks’ can boost positive emotions among older adults. The Psychologist, December.
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