Study: Engaging with surroundings while out and about makes a positive difference
A just-published study by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), finds that engaging with surroundings while on walks, instead of focusing on thoughts, made a positive difference in study participants’ well-being.
As outlined in the journal Emotion, a group of older adults took eight weekly 15-minute walks after receiving instruction to look at and appreciate the world around them—referred to as “awe walks” in the study. A control group received no such instruction beyond taking a weekly 15-minute walk during that same time period.
After the walks, participants of both groups answered open-ended survey questions. Those who received instruction to engage with their surroundings while walking submitted responses reflecting appreciation of things they saw and enjoyed, like autumn leaves, while the control group’s responses focused on the things they thought about while they were walking, such as stressful vacation preparations. Daily check-in survey responses also showed that those in the “awe walks” group experienced significant boosts in positive emotions, such as compassion and gratitude, over the course of the study.
In addition, the two groups were asked to submit photos of themselves on their walks. Those in the “awe walks” group submitted selfies showing measurably larger smiles than those in the control group while also making themselves smaller in the photo to show more of their surroundings.
“One of the key features of awe is that it promotes what we call ‘small self’—a healthy sense of proportion between your own self and the bigger picture of the world around you,” said study author Dr. Virginia Sturm of UCSF’s Departments of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Behavioral Sciences. “To be honest, we had decided to do this particular analysis of participants’ selfies on a lark: I never really expected we’d be able to document awe’s ability to create an emotionally healthy ‘small self’ literally on camera!”
So take a walk, take time to engage with the world around you and see where it takes you. For additional assistance on increasing your behavioral health and emotional well-being, contact a licensed professional from the Department of Consumer Affairs’ (DCA) Board of Behavioral Sciences or Board of Psychology. And while you’re walking, be on the lookout for inspiring and engaging work by other DCA licensed professionals like those from the California Architects Board and Landscape Architects Technical Committee. To check a professional’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.