Lately I have been a little enamored with sunsets. Well, perhaps the word enamored doesn’t quite cut it. When I get a peek outside during a late afternoon shopping run to the store, and then make the immediate decision to leave a full shopping cart so I can run home and catch the final moments from our deck, I would say that borders on obsessive. (The feature image to this post is the photo I caught of this exact sunset outside the grocery store before heading home.) My obsession is fine with me because I believe it’s actually starting to change who I am…what I put at the top of my priority list, and what, by default, my kids have started to do as well. They started capturing sunset photos for me when I can’t make it home. And my daughter asks her friends to come over to take “sunset photos.” This sunset obsession is rubbing off on them!
Which, of course, got me thinking…do sunsets have a psychological impact on our mood? If you look on Instagram and Facebook lately, you’ll see an explosion of sunset photos with hashtags like #nofilter, #wow, #sandiegosunsets, #skyonfire, and more. So clearly it’s not just me. Maybe I’m unique in the sense that I race home to see it, but I’m not unique that I truly, madly, deeply enjoy a beautiful sunset. It literally takes my breath away. Sometimes I even feel like crying, and not out of sadness but more out of the fact that I am actually stopping everything I am doing and taking a moment to genuinely appreciate something that has nothing to do with money, or material things, or success, or my kids being perfect, or me being thin or fat, or my husband helping with the dishes, or not…it literally has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the unmistakable beauty radiating throughout the sky.
Just a little digging yielded articles and articles of research indicating I was on the right track…enjoying a sunset definitely impacts mood and well-being. It actually has to do with the whole concept of nature and the sunset is one of the most natural things that takes place every single day. Appreciating natural beauty “may boost well-being, increase generosity and enhance life satisfaction,” according to “How Admiring the Sunset Changes You for the Better” by Linda Wasmer Andrews in Psychology Today. Wasmer further explains that there is a natural tendency to stop and stare at a breathtaking sunset: “When you do so, youʼre 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.” Perhaps this helps explain why I sometimes almost cry. I’m allowing myself to get caught up in the moment.
I wasn’t too surprised quite honestly about what I discovered because I have my own personal experience as evidence. As sunset hour approaches I find myself more aware of what I’m doing. I don’t want to waste time. Am I checking email? Sending a text? I put down my phone. I go outside and wait for it, or make it a point to pay better attention to the scenery if I’m driving.
Once I get to my destination I plan my next steps around being able to see the sunset, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes. I rarely have time to actually sit down and soak it in for 30 minutes but even those few minutes make a world of difference. I notice my breathing slows. I notice I feel at peace. I notice I’m not as frustrated as I may have been earlier in the day. I notice that I am grateful for this moment as simple as it is. I notice that I’m fortunate to be alive and able to enjoy a moment like this. It all made sense when I read that “by witnessing the beauty and awe of the sunset, you can slow down your perception of time,” according to a recent article about sunsets in the Huffington Post.
Shortly afterward I’m back to my schedule of running kids around to activities and making dinner, but I seem to do it with more ease. Perhaps this is because “nature is fuel for the soul,” according to Richard Ryan, Ph.D., lead author of the studies on sunset and well-being. He went to point out that “often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.”
My scientific interest in sunset was also spurred and so I decided to look up why the colors evolve the way they do when the sun in setting. Apparently it has little to do with a love story between the clouds and the sun and everything to do with molecules and wavelengths, according to Scientific Daily. Definitely not as romantic as I was hoping, so I opted to just end my research with the emotional impacts since really that’s what matters most for me.
There is truly something magical about the fluffy, cotton candy scattering of clouds throughout the sky – deliciously rosy pink puffs swirled with burnt orange and tints of purple. Sunsets on a stick. Even the clouds far from the center of the sun’s exact resting place radiate tints of the same shades creating a blush toned horizon of pure bliss. And, the tall dark shadows of palm trees peeking through at the top make it all postcard California.
I wrap up this post with a Sunset Challenge. Should you choose to accept this challenge, and I really hope you do, read on to learn the details of your challenge. The next time you’re feeling stressed, or tired, or frustrated, or even just plain bored, and you notice the time is around 5:15 p.m., do whatever you can to go outside and catch the sunset. Really take it in and appreciate the rose tinted clouds meshed with the fiery orange sun and pale blue sky. Take a deep breath and take note of what it does to your mood.
As noted in the same Huffington Post article, “there is something inherently powerful and spiritual about sunsets, and we can benefit from incorporating such experiences into a regular ritual.” I would love to hear your feedback, and even a photo of your view. After all, we all know I’m a bit obsessed. And I just don’t think I can ever get enough interactions with the simplistic and majestic beauty of a cotton candy sunset.
NOTE: All sunset photos were unfiltered and taken with my iPhone.