By Ash Spittle
By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of some of the most important positive emotions that contribute to a sense of wellbeing: gratitude, joy, and love, to name a few. But there’s one that is not often discussed, and that is awe. Awe is the feeling of goodness on a grand scale, of feeling overwhelmed by greatness, and often happens when we are looking at something magnificent like a landscape of huge mountains, or a wide-open ocean stretching as far as the eye can see. I’ve always felt happiest down by the beach or amongst the mountains and I’ve noticed that the first glimpse of ocean as I’m driving down to the beach, or the first time I see the mountain peaks on the drive to the snow, is met with a feeling of relief, relaxation, and happiness. Only recently have I learned that this sensation is a well-recognised phenomenon. Awe.
I’ve been lucky enough to get more than my fair share of awe in the past six months. In December I did the Annapurna circuit trek in Nepal with one of my friends. At the end of our trip, as we reflected on the two weeks of walking, we both agreed on the two best days of the walk – the days when we had the most incredible view of the Himalayas. On each of these days, as we reached the top of the hill, an expanse of enormous 8000-metre-high peaks simply stopped us in our tracks. We just stood there and admired them, feeling overwhelmed with awe, and couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day (despite our blisters!). Today it’s Easter Monday, and just yesterday I was walking over the Tongariro pass in New Zealand: home to some spectacular red volcanos and sparkling emerald lakes. I feel so lucky and happy to have been able to see that amazing landscape and appreciate all that the outdoors has to offer.
Of course, we can’t have these awe-inspiring moments every day. Even if some of us end up working up in the mountains or down by the beach, in a place that makes us stop and stare, it’s certainly not going to be the majority of us, and it is most definitely will not be the majority of medical school. Right now, our days consist of being inside our cars, public transport, lecture theatres, and hospital wards, often with not a lot of time for anything else. So how can we bring a little bit of awe into our everyday lives?
I firmly believe that being outside in the open air is like being in the mountains or at the beach on a mini scale. I know that the days when I take a moment to appreciate my surroundings are the days I feel happiest in all aspects of my life. So here a few of my ideas for how you can get outside every day, for no other reason than to put a smile on your face.
If you’re a morning person:
If you don’t already, try setting your alarm 10 or 15 minutes earlier, get up and go for a quick walk around your block. Look up at the trees. The leaves are changing colour at the moment and, as cheesy as it sounds, it really is beautiful. If you don’t like walking, find a spot to sit outside and stretch or wake up slowly.
On your way to uni:
Do you catch public transport? Take a moment when you’re walking to and from the train to look up at the sky. Most of you probably have to get going early, and Melbourne has some pretty impressive sunrises to offer. Do you drive your car? Park your car just a bit further away (like a million people before me have suggested) and use the time it takes to walk to relax and enjoy the cool autumn breeze.
Coffee time or lunch time:
If you brought your own lunch, take it outside to eat in the sunshine. If it’s raining, find somewhere under shelter and enjoy the smell of the rain. If you’re at the hospital and have a bit of time, walk to the café down the street to get your coffee, or go around the outside of the building to get to the good coffee place instead of through the over pass (yes MMC, I’m talking to you).
Catching up with friends:
Got a standing brunch date at your favourite café? Try switching it up for a coffee to go and a walk around your local park instead. You can appreciate the outdoors together and save some money at the same time!
Have you got a whole free weekend?!
Get outside and find yourself some awe! We’ve got the beaches from St Kilda down to the Peninsula, we’ve got the Dandenong Ranges just an easy walk from the Belgrave train line, there’s the Yarra Trail (my personal favourite) and all the other bike paths along rivers in Melbourne, and even something as simple as your local duck pond. If you’re really feeling adventurous then head down to the Great Ocean Road or up to the Victorian High Plains and walk, sit, and enjoy.