Mindfulness physical therapy, pain management, rehabilitation

Awe Walks Promote Positive Emotions

Strum and colleagues investigated the emotional benefits of a novel “awe walk” intervention in healthy older adults.1 Sixty participants were randomly assigned to an awe walk group, which oriented them to experience awe during a weekly 15-min outdoor walk for 8 weeks, or to a control walk group. Participants also took selfies of themselves during each walk and rated their emotional experience. They also maintained a daily record of their emotional experience outside of the walk and completed pre- and post-intervention measures of anxiety, depression, and life satisfaction.

Compared with control group participants, those who took awe walks experienced greater awe during their walks. They reported greater joy and prosocial positive emotions during their walks. Outside of the walk context, participants who took awe walks reported greater increases in daily positive emotions and greater decreases in daily distress over time. There were no significant changes in the emotional well-being of the control group during their walks or outside of the walk context.

Analysis of the selfies revealed participants in the awe group portrayed themselves smaller in their photos over time, preferring to focus more on the landscapes around them. Awe is suggested to promote this healthy sense of proportion between the self and the larger surrounding world. In addition, smiles in the awe group grew measurably more energetic. There were no changes in the composition of the control group selfies.

Post-intervention measures of anxiety, depression, and life satisfaction did not change from baseline in either group.

As the daily experience of joy and positive prosocial emotions, such as compassion and gratitude, grew stronger over time in the awe group, researchers suggest the benefits of awe walks could grow with longer and more frequent practice. The focus on awe when walking could be a simple, accessible, low-cost recommendation for improving emotional health.

1Strum VE, Datta S, Roy ARK, et al. Big smile, small self: Awe walks promote prosocial positive emotions in older adults. Emotion. 2020 Sep 21. doi: 10.1037/emo0000876.