Experiencing nature is something special.

Talking a walk does not only provide one with a good portion of fresh air, it also provides calming visual impressions, soothing sounds and other pleasant stimuli like the soft touch of wind on the skin. Experiencing nature also has to do with an atmosphere resonating with emotions. Imagine a morning outdoors, filled with bird songs and the special light of the early sun – what a wonderful start for a day.

To really experience nature, however, is not something that happens to everyone who goes outdoors. We may walk through the most beautiful forest without really noticing its beauty, or bike to work in the morning without even noticing that birds are singing. For experiencing nature, you have to pay attention. And if you do, this can be highly rewarding.

A recent study investigated the effect of what they called ‘awe walks’ on healthy higher aged people. Participants took weekly 15-min outdoor walks for eight weeks. Half of the participants were told to experience awe during their walks, whereas the other half were not given any instructions. During the walk, participants took selfies, and afterwards they rated their emotional experience. Those participants who took ‘awe walks’ reported greater joy and positive emotions than those who took ‘usual walks’. And very interestingly, in the selfies the ‘awe walk’ participants took, the ‘self’ got smaller over time (Sturm et al. 2020).

In that study, awe was not necessarily connected to nature. But it is easy to find opportunties for amazement in nature, be it the structure of a leaf, the pattern in the feathers of a common bird, or the boldness with which a small herb makes its life in the cracks of the pavement. And there are ample other studies that show that experiencing nature can have positive effects on health. Another good example is a project led by a German NGO (Landesbund für Vogelschutz, LBV). Here, retirement homes were equipped with bird feeding stations and information material allowing the identification of birds, motivating elderly people to watch birds. An accompanying study found that watching birds increased their mobility, cognitive recources and social wellbeing (LBV 2020).

Even if the best way to experience nature is to go outdoors, there are also some wonderful platforms, delivering a virtual experience that inspires and motivates nature appreciation. The platform Dawn Chorus allows to virtually travel around the world, and get a glimps of the special morning mood in places far away. And if you miss the song of a specific bird you haven’t heard in a while, you will very likely find it in the Sonotheque of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris.

You can also take a virtual, auditory walk through forests around the globe, on the platform Sounds of the Forest, and listen to familiar as well as unfamiliar voices of the animals living their, and find out whether the sound of the wind in the leaves is the same all over the world, or if it differs. And then, next time you visit the forest nearby, pay special attention to the sounds of ‘your’ forest. Don’t forget to look for things that turn your walk into an ‘awe-walk’!



LBV (2020): Alle Vögel sind schon da – Wohlbefinden durch Vogelbeobachtung. Retrieved from: https://www.lbv.de/umweltbildung/fuer-seniorenheime/

Sturm, V. E., Datta, S., Roy, A. R. K., Sible, I. J., Kosik, E. L., Veziris, C. R., . . . Keltner, D. (2020). Big smile, small self: Awe walks promote prosocial positive emotions in older adults. Emotion. doi:10.1037/emo0000876 [link]

Image sources:

© Photo by Svetozar Cenisev on Unsplash

PD Dr. Tina Heger

Fields of Expertise: Biodiversity Research, Ecological Theory