Watch a sunset

3 surprising benefits of sunsets

You can’t get the image that you saw on Instagram this morning out of your head–a shockingly beautiful sunset viewed over someone’s perfectly manicured feet. You may have curled your lip just a little bit as you looked over your own ratty sneakers at your own view of a rather tall heap of laundry across the room.

Fortunately, even if today is not your day to sip frozen daiquiris on a tropical beach, a gorgeous sunset is featured in your very own backyard every day of the week. Brilliant scarlet and orange blaze across the sky, muted pinks and violets paint the expansive canvas of clouds. Every evening is a slightly different show. Fill your cup of beauty tonight at the nightly showing of your local sunset.

 

Connect with nature

Half of the world’s population live in urban areas, a figure projected to increase to 70 percent by 2050. City dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders. Those raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia. It turns out humans weren’t meant to be completely urban. Current research indicates that connecting ourselves with nature reduces depressive symptoms and high blood pressure, increases our likelihood of being active and even improves cognitive function. (1)

Research indicates that the more time spent in nature, the better the mental health outcome, but even a tree seen from a kitchen window or a picture of a beautiful nature scene was enough to improve memory, attention and concentration among children in urban areas in one study. College students with nature views from their dormitories also exhibited better concentration than peers with a view of the parking lot. A few minutes alone with a sunset regularly may improve our own affect, activity level and cognition. (1)

 

Pause the rat race

Between kids, work, exercise, volunteer work and other countless demands on our time, our daily pace matches the endlessly racing gerbil of your childhood, on his squeaky exercise wheel. Taking ten minutes to watch the sun go down pushes the pause button on that crazy pace and gives us a moment to relax and take stock.

A 2016 UK survey called “Life in the Fast Lane” found that the rapid pace of modern life results in increased irritability towards others, more impatience, more excessive alcohol consumption, poor digestion and reduced interest in sex. Life coach Blaire Palmer suggests we must slow down to combat these negative consequences, saying, “The key to stress and time management is the ability to stop ‘doing’ all the time and start ‘being’ some of the time.” (2)

 

Feel awe and wonder

Scientifically speaking, awe is that profound reverence and admiration that comes from something grand or sublime. Experientially speaking, however, it’s an intake of breath, a pause to wonder at something amazing, a moment that makes us think profoundly on what is bigger than you and me. Besides how it makes us feel, that feeling of awe has an excellent side effect.

Feeling awe actually gives the illusion of time slowing down. Researchers at Stanford found that showing participants short videos of people enjoying experiences that would produce feelings of awe (whales, waterfalls, astronauts in space) caused them to have a more expansive view of time. They reported their time as less constricted than did the group merely shown happy images of confetti, parades and park-goers. Simply watching a sunset now and then could ameliorate the chronic modern feeling of constricted time. (3)

 

Read more about “life in the fast lane”:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-202908/Are-living-life-fast.html

Learn more about the colors of sunsets:
http://www.spc.noaa.gov/publications/corfidi/sunset/

Additional info on nature and mental health:
http://college.usatoday.com/2015/07/09/study-nature-good-for-mental-health/

 

References

  1. Bratman G, Daily G, Levy B, Gross J. The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning. 2015, 138:41-50.
  2. Marsh, B. Are you living life too fast? DailyMail.com. Accessed Sep 2, 2016.
  3. Rudd M, Vohs K, Aaker J. Awe expands people’s perception of time, alters decision making, and enhances well-being. Psychological Science. 2012, 23(10):1130-1136.
Dana Vaughan

About Dana Vaughan

Dana completed a Master of Public Health (MPH) and a Master of Social Work (MSW) at San Diego State University, and has worked in family planning education, prenatal counseling, and child development. She loves her mountain bike, her husband, her kids, and her faith—although possibly not in that order.

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