Studies show that appreciating natural beauty may boost well-being, increase generosity and enhance life satisfaction.
The key is to actively engage with the experience. To reap the rewards of that sunset, you need to stop whatever else you’re doing and really notice and appreciate the show in the sky.
Benefits of Sunset Gazing
Allowing yourself to be captivated by a sunset may have a number of psychological benefits.
- Emotional well-being. In general, people who feel connected with nature report being happier and having more positive emotions than those who don’t share this connection. Yet it’s clear that some people get more joy from an hour in the park than others.
A recent study led by Jia Wei Zhang at the University of California, Berkeley, helps explain why: Researchers found that connectedness with nature only predicted well-being in people who were attuned to the beauty of nature. Need to tune up your awareness of natural beauty? It’s hard to beat simply sitting outside and soaking up a stunning sunset.
- Concern for others. Another study by Zhang found that the positive emotions aroused by natural beauty led to increased prosociality — feelings and behaviors characterized by a concern for others. In one experiment, volunteers first looked at pictures of nature scenes and then played a game, which allowed them to be generous or stingy about giving away points to other players. The nature images had been pre-rated to determine how beautiful people thought they were. Volunteers who viewed beautiful nature images gave away more points, compared to those who viewed less attractive pictures. In short, it wasn’t just looking at nature that put people in a generous mood. It was perceiving the beauty of nature — and a sunset is a prime example of that.
- Satisfaction with life. Beauty enriches life, making it more rewarding. One study found that greater engagement with beauty was associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, gratitude, and a spiritual outlook. The association was strongest for engagement with natural beauty, as compared to artistic beauty (such as a painting, symphony or poem) or moral beauty (such as an act of charity, loyalty or kindness). One theory is that appreciation for the beauty of nature is so powerful because it’s instinctual rather than learned. There’s a natural tendency to stop and stare at a breathtaking sunset. When you do so, you’re likely to be caught up in the moment, and your mind gets a break from fretting over the past or worrying about the future. Afterward, you feel refreshed, and life just seems a little better.