And research suggests it’s good for your health, too. Awe can help calm the nervous system, reduce inflammation and foster a sense of community (even if you experience the emotion alone). People who took awe walks, one study found, felt more upbeat and hopeful than walkers who did not.
These walks also have restorative benefits, said Dr. Keltner, who has seen the positive effects firsthand. When his daughter was younger, she had anxiety and became preoccupied with dying, he said. So they began to take nightly awe walks to a giant cedar tree in their neighborhood. Together, they touched the tree’s bark and talked about the cycle of life. As the months passed, this ritual connected them to nature and each other, Dr. Keltner said, as his daughter went from being “freaked out about dying” to getting “a sense of ‘this is just part of life.’”
“An awe walk can be a healing ritual,” he said. “Twelve years later, I still walk to touch that tree.”
Ready to try it? Here’s how:
Decide on a place.
You can pick somewhere you’ve never been, Dr. Keltner said, adding that you’re more likely to feel awe in an environment where the sights and sounds are unfamiliar — a local park or trail you’ve never visited, a new neighborhood in your city or town, a body of water if you live near one. Or you can travel to a familiar spot and imagine that you’re seeing it for the first time, he said.
No matter where you go, the fleeting beauty of a dawn sky or sunset has been shown to cultivate awe.
Once you’ve arrived at your spot, give yourself at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted time. If you can, turn off your phone. Then take a few deep breaths “to shift out of our hyper task-focused mind,” Dr. Keltner said. Breathe in for four counts, hold for four, breathe out for six. Do this for a few minutes. Then start walking.