Boost your Mood and Wellbeing with an Awe Walk
A couple of months ago, I read Dacher Keltner’s new book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. Keltner is a scientist who studies emotions. He and other emotion scientists define awe as a sense of wonder and reverence. It is a positive elicited in the presence of vastness.
The emotion of awe does good things for our bodies and minds.
The experience of awe lowers stress and inflammation. It makes you more compassionate, curious, and creative. It improves your sense of wellbeing and leads you to feel more connected with the greater world and with your inner world.
One of the ways I’ve been consciously eliciting the emotion of awe on a regular basis is by taking “awe walks.”
Researchers studied the emotional benefits of “awe walks” in healthy older adults. The adults in the study took “novel” outdoor walks over a period of 8 weeks. The study found that such walks enhanced positive emotions that fostered social connection and diminished negative emotions among the participants.
I take a walk outside in nature most days, usually in the woods near my house. On these walks, I delight in the vastness of nature around me, observing the tall trees, the wide sky, the billowing clouds, and the shafts of sunlight through the wood.
Novelty is part of the awe experience.
Each day is different, even if I’m walking on the same path. This past month I have watched the sword ferns slowly unfurl themselves. I’ve watched the trilliums bloom, and now the miner’s lettuce. The big-leaf maples have finally put out their leaves, the salmon berries are now flowering. Each day, I see, and often smell, something new that wasn’t there the week before.
Make yourself available to awe.
While the wonder of nature is available everyday, I’ve learned that if I aim to make the most of my walks and to truly gain the experience of awe, I have to make myself available. If I’m on my phone, listening to podcasts, or talking to a friend while I walk, I’m frankly not available for the experience of awe. I’m too caught up in “small minded” things.
Start with your own breath.
I make myself available by first tuning into my own breath and body. I give myself a few minutes to simply breathe and feel my feet walking on the earth. I consciously “let go” of whatever I”ve been doing or will do later and invite myself to be present in the moment.
Notice the big and notice the small.
I then shift my awareness to my surroundings: the magnificence of a cedar tree, the robin that just flew past and landed on a branch, the warm touch of the breeze on my skin, the rustling sound of the maples, the ants building their anthill.
There are so many wonders, large and small, that I easily lose my small sense of self, my self-preoccupation, and I gain a sense of being part of something bigger.
Take in the good.
It’s simple, but it feels good. Taking in the beauty and the goodness of nature is good for us. I come home from an awe walk refreshed, in a better mood, and more available for the people in my life.