Awe can be a powerful antidote to the apathy that arises from depression. But, since it sometimes takes effort to chase it, here are some ideas for finding it right outside your door.
According to The Greater Good Science Center’s recommendations for an awe walk, places of great physical vastness and novelty increase the likelihood of awe.
Though I can check off most of the recommended natural, urban, and indoor settings for awe walks within a two hour’s drive of Portland, I wanted to see what I could do simply by adjusting the route of my daily walk.
I usually head for a lovely tree-lined park, which always fills me gratitude and awe. It also lets me relax because I don’t have to cross so many streets. Today, I decided to change up and go with novelty.
To begin with, I separated myself from my phone. I didn’t want my awe to be interrupted.
I did a couple rounds of breathing with longer exhales than inhales. This helps engage the parasympathetic nervous system: rest and digest vs. the sympathetic’s fight or flight. Since an awe walk asks us to tune into our senses and let them guide us, I wanted to start from a place of calm instead of anxiety. If low energy keeps you from getting out the door, you can try a few long inhales and short exhales for starters.
The sight of a U-Haul truck prompted some interesting thoughts about the awe-inspiring Crater Lake, reminding me that it’s the deepest in the United States. I wonder whether the deepwater discoveries inspired this section of the mural that I encountered later on the walk.
The first sound that caught my attention was unexpected running water. It reminded me of my connection to the vast array of pipes that run just beneath the city’s surface, and the path that water takes, down from the melting snows on Mt. Hood to get there.
My sense of sight was first to notice this flower that I didn’t recognize as being in bloom yet this year. I leaned in to let it engage my sense of smell, too.
I passed a couple restaurants on my return trip, but didn’t stop in to explore my sense of taste. I came across the official vehicle of Pip’s Original Oregon Dept. of Doughnuts, which I occasionally pass on other walks. The smell of the fresh doughnuts has, on occasion, drawn me in to inspire my taste buds.
When it comes to touch, I was aware of the summer sun on my skin. I was grateful that I wasn’t wearing a dense fur coat like my canine friend here, but the pooch seemed happy to have found a shady spot.
I certainly found last week’s eclipse experience to be awe inspiring, but finding awe in everyday life is often just a matter of having the right mindset and leading where your sensory experience takes you.
Sure, it’s fun when the sun eclipses the moon, but under the right circumstances, it can be pretty awe inspiring when we eclipse part of the moon, too.
Ten Minute Exercise
Check out the interview between Academy Award Winning Pixar Director Pete Docter and Dacher Keltner about the benefits of a savoring walk on this episode of The Science of Happiness Podcast. The entire episode takes twenty-three minutes, but you can start at the three minute mark to catch the discussion of the walking experience in ten minutes.