Will doctors one day be prescribing their patients the practice of taking in sunrises or sunsets in order to boost their well-being? The question is not as far out as one might think, because scientists have, for the first time, quantified the ‘wow’ factor of observing these natural phenomena and found that it has a positive impact on our mental health.
If you’ve ever done a guided tour, you’ve probably already heard a tour guide advising participants to get up at dawn to watch the sunrise and observe a landscape from a new angle.
Travelers taking a trip in Australia with the famous Great Ocean Road on their itinerary are generally encouraged to visit the site of the 12 Apostles very early in the morning at sunrise or at sunset in order to appreciate the changing colors of these rock formations rising along the shoreline.
In Bali, climbs of Mount Batur also take place in the early hours for physical reasons, as well as to be able to enjoy a stunning natural spectacle at sunrise.
Meanwhile, in Mauritius, the west coast is popular among couples, who dine with their feet in the sand as a radiant sun appears to plunge into the Indian Ocean upon sunset.
Our travels are full of unique and diverse views, whether artistic, architectural or natural, that inspire admiration and contemplation.
But when both urban and natural environments are observed during the “ephemeral phenomena” of sunrise or sunset, the term used by researchers at the University of Exeter, our feelings of awe go up a notch. According to their study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the effects of these fleeting moments on our mental health had never previously been measured.
In previous studies, the effects of observing nature were essentially evaluated in the context of calm, blue skies. In this new study, the 2,500 participants were shown images of urban and natural environments. When these images included sunrises and sunsets, the study subjects judged them as “considerably more beautiful” than when seen at other times of day in sunny conditions.
In order to experience this inspiring “wow” effect, the participants were even willing to pay a premium of nearly 10% more to visit a site at a time when they could observe a landscape when the sun rises.
Sunrises and sunsets by prescription?
Furthermore, “unexpectedly, the paper revealed that sunrise and sunset could also trigger significant boosts in people’s feelings of awe,” a press release about the study notes. In other words, such moments are good for us: this awe has the ability to improve our mood and emotions, which help our overall well-being.
The therapeutic role of nature has already been highlighted: for instance, in Canada, doctors can prescribe “forest baths” to patients suffering from anxiety, in the form of free entrance to national parks.
Now, it could be all about motivating patients to get up earlier to watch the sunrise and thereby boost their morale.
“Our research indicates that getting up a bit earlier for sunrise or timing a walk to catch sunset could be well worth the effort,” say the researchers. If you are suffering from the winter blues, you know what to do…