Have you ever wondered what a selfie can tell you about your mental health? Taking selfies in nature can reveal a lot about your state of your mind. Researchers confirm the benefits of taking walks in the great outdoors and how analyzing the selfies the participants took gave them an insight into the concept of an “awe” walk.
Feeling smaller in nature and experiencing the sensation of being dwarfed by large trees or being mystified by the ocean has a way of putting our mundane experiences into perspective. Aside from the usual ways that walking outside can help, from exposing yourself to green spaces and getting fresh air and sunlight, walking to specifically strive for this feeling of awe can give you more joy.
These types of walks have been dubbed “awe” walks by researchers with the American Psychological Association. They recruited 60 older adults to walk each week for 15 minutes for 8 weeks. Half of the study participants walked with a guide which oriented them to parts of the walk which they should stop and admire to induce feelings of awe, while the other half walked without any particular purpose. They were asked to take selfies on their walks at the beginning, middle, and end and share how they were feeling.
Just as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Over the course of the 8 weeks, the photographs changed, and how they represented themselves in nature gave psychologists a snapshot of how they experienced the awe in their walks. Awe is an emotion which decreases self-focus and helps foster social ties by encouraging the self-concept of a “small self.”
The concept of the “small self” was actually visually appreciated over time in the group of people who were guided on their walks to stop and experience wonder at the beauty of their surroundings. As time progressed, the awe group walkers made themselves actually smaller in the field of the selfies, and they focused more on the landscapes in the selfies. Even their smiles became larger in the photos towards the end of the study.
By the end of the study, participants reported an increase in positive emotions and less stress during the times when they weren’t walking. It is a simple way to remind us to shift our focus off of ourselves and take a moment to experience the sense of wonder and awe that nature (as well as music and art) can provide.
Sturm, V. E., Datta, S., Roy, A. R., Sible, I. J., Kosik, E. L., Veziris, C. R., . . . Keltner, D. (2020). Big smile, small self: Awe walks promote prosocial positive emotions in older adults. Emotion. doi:10.1037/emo0000876