The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. W.B. Yeats
According to a scientific study published September 21, adults who took short fifteen minute “awe walks” just once a week reported measurable improvements in their positive emotions and a decrease in their daily stress. According to Virginia Sturm, PhD, one of the researchers, “What we show here is that a very simple intervention — essentially a reminder to occasionally shift our energy and attention outward instead of inward — can lead to significant improvements in emotional well-being.” The study showed a remarkable connection between engaging with nature for even a short period of time and an improved quality of life. Awe is an uplifting emotion which is triggered by being conscious of being part of something larger than yourself. The researchers discovered an increase in so-called prosocial emotions such as compassion, gratitude and humility. Regularly taking an awe walk (in nature or neighborhood) can have enormous benefits to your quality of life.
As we age, our minds can begin to tilt towards negative thoughts. One aspect of this is what doctors call emotional contagion — a tendency to mirror the emotions of others. If those around you, and the people on TV programs you watch, focus on the negative side of life, some people begin to mirror those emotions. According to the researchers, Negative emotions are self-focused states with detrimental effects on aging and longevity”. The study showed including an awe-walk in your routine decreases self-interest and increased the positive thoughts that would benefit others more. This decrease in self-interest can lead to helping the environment, volunteering at a school, donating to a worthy charity, etc. All of these further increase ones sense of overall well-being.
Although participants only took a fifteen minute awe walk once a week, the positive emotional impact were long-lasting, and increased with practice over time. Participants were surveyed each time, and their answers showed a marked gratitude for their life. The inspired sense of awe increased individual’s understanding of their self in relation to the greater world. This is called the “small self” The title of the research paper was “Big Smile, Small Self…” Psychologist would define the small self as a diminished sense of self and the significance of your goals. In Zen the small self is: the I that says “I am Chuck”.; to which the master asks, “Who is this I?” The small self is the ego – the sense of attachment to personality. By gaining an understanding of the small-self you expand your consciousness to a more compassionate, grateful point of view. This small self is not bad, but it limits the individual’s view of the greater world around them.
Some people associate the word awe with grand peak experiences, such as seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, scaling a mountain cliff. Abraham Maslow defined peak experiences as “joyous and exciting moments in life, involving sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being”. Reading the word awe conjures up images of mountains, oceans, canyons, but awe just as easily come from: noticing ripening vegetables, the twirl of savory greens on a round plate, the sun glinting off dew drops, a vine reaching towards the light. Awe can spring from the appreciation of a poem or work of art, the splendor of a marvelous song, a brief flutter of wings outside your window.
As Emerson said, The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of adulthood. (*Note: I changed the last word “manhood” to “adulthood)”. This is a simple low-cost way to vastly improve brain health in adults as we age. You can boost your emotional well-being throughout the by simply gazing out the window for a few minutes or summon your small self to consider the way water flows down the drain while doing the dishes. There are so many miracles dancing around your life every day. Take a little awe walk and be grateful for life’s charms. Peace.