Have you ever said “Whoa!” as you watched a hawk soar through the sky or an athlete sink a basket? If so, you’ve experienced awe. It’s a strong feeling of wonder and amazement.
Virginia Sturm is a psychologist and an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “Awe is a positive emotion,” she told TIME for Kids. “When we feel it, we feel smaller in relation to the world around us.” Often, people feel awe in nature.
Recently, Sturm led a study about awe. The goal was to see if it’s possible for people to feel more awe by taking “awe walks.”
Scientists divided adult volunteers into two groups. Both groups were asked to take a weekly 15-minute outdoor walk. They were instructed to pay attention to their surroundings and to take a few selfies.
People in one of the groups got additional instructions, Sturm says. They were asked “to try to tap into a childlike sense of wonder . . . and to try to see the world with fresh eyes.”
Participants responded to daily questions about their mood. They also sent in their selfies. After eight weeks, researchers found that people in the awe-walk group felt more upbeat and happy than those in the other group. The faces in their selfies were small and the surroundings large. The findings were published last fall in the journal Emotion.
Awe Walks for Kids
Sturm says awe walks can be good for children, too. “Kids might even benefit more,” she says, “because they experience awe and wonder and curiosity, I think, much more easily than most adults.”
Awe walks aren’t hard. “You don’t have to go somewhere new or take a big trip,” Sturm says. “It could be really quite simple, like noticing new flowers in your backyard or a bird nest on your street.”
Maryam Abdullah is a psychologist at the Greater Good Science Center, in Berkeley, California. She says awe walks can be especially helpful during the pandemic, when people might be feeling disconnected from others. “Awe is one of those emotions that helps us transcend ourselves [and] understand our connection to something much bigger,” she says. “That’s a healthy feeling for young people to experience.”
Sturm agrees. “Moments of awe can be brief,” she says. “But the accumulation of these little moments matters to our well-being and helps us feel happier during these times of isolation and stress.”