We all know just how romantic, inspiring and utterly Instagram-able they can be, but most of us only make time for sunsets when we’re on vacation, as if that calming, beautiful moment can only occur when we’re in an exotic place, free from everyday obligations.
But — newsflash — the sun sets every single day, no matter where you are. And with the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer, the sunset is becoming more and more accessible, and an easy, free way to infuse some wonder and awe into your regular routine.
Here’s why you should consider making time to watch the sun set:
1. It can slow down time.
Seriously. By witnessing the beauty and awe of the sunset, you can slow down your perception of time. According to 2012 research, participants who felt awe — defined as “the emotion that arises when one encounters something so strikingly vast that it provokes a need to update one’s mental schemas” — felt like they had more time available and were less impatient. “Experiences of awe bring people into the present moment,” researchers wrote in the paper, “which underlies awe’s capacity to adjust time perception, influence decisions, and make life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.”
Feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? Amazingly, by taking the time to gaze out into the vast, color-soaked sky, we’re actually empowering ourselves to regain control of the clock.
2. & 3. It doesn’t take long and it forces you outside.
Even if you have to go back to the office after you watch that last sliver disappear below the skyline, taking a few minutes out of your day to experience some of the golden hour will be worth it. Just a 20-minute dose of fresh air promotes a sense of vitality, according to a series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.
“Nature is fuel for the soul,” Richard Ryan, Ph.D., lead author of the studies, said in a statement. “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.”
4. It allows you to multitask in a healthy way.
You can take in the sunset in a variety of ways: while running, walking, biking or simply observing. The mental benefits of the former three are well known — exercise, after all, has been shown to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress — but simply sitting and observing the sunset also gives you a health boost: the opportunity to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness, according to a Perspectives on Psychological Science study, is “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment” and has been proven to have significant psychological and physical benefits, including stress reduction and improved cognitive functioning. What better way to practice being aware of the present moment than by watching the literal passing of time as the sun sinks below the horizon?
5. It will force you to put your phone down.
When we relegate the experience of sunsets to vacations and special occasions, we feel the urge to document, capture and save them — as if hoarding photos of their majesty will help us remember that wondrous feeling. But if you experience the sunset more regularly, you’ll no longer feel compelled to see it through a screen. (Besides, your Instagram followers would never stand for the repetition!)
In her new book, “Thrive,” president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group Arianna Huffington warns that an over-reliance on technology can cause us to miss the moment. “Even the good moments that celebrate us, we are hardly there to enjoy it,” she recently told Barbara Walters. By watching the sunset and not your screens, you’ll give your brain the chance to recharge and recover.
6. It will help you appreciate life’s gifts.
People around the world are drawn to sunsets, but a few special places have really embraced the sunset as a daily opportunity to give thanks. In places like Santorini, Greece, and Maui, Hawaii, the sunset is regarded as a nightly celebration. Crowds gather to cheer and applaud it, reinforcing the idea that we should celebrate and be thankful for each day.
Being mindful of all the things you have to be thankful for can boost your well-being, research suggests. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude is associated with a sense of overall gladness, improved sleep and even increased patience.
7. It will inspire you.
There’s a reason sunsets are timeless and constant standbys of poets, writers and romantics — they’re inspiring. Mahatma Gandhi observed this power when he said, “When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.”
There is something inherently powerful and spiritual about sunsets, and we can benefit from incorporating such experiences into a regular ritual. In the article, “The Psychological and Physical Benefits of Spiritual/Religious Practices“, Ellen L. Idler, Ph.D., a sociology professor at Emory University, notes, “Transcendent spiritual and religious experiences have a positive, healing, restorative effect, especially if they are ‘built in,’ so to speak, to one’s daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual cycles of living.”