Why Does Nature Inspire Us with Awe?

Why Does Nature Inspire Us with Awe? July 23, 2022

If you like to walk your dog in the park or spend hours exploring nature one thing’s for certain: you get out in nature because of how it makes you feel.

Happy. Energized. Awestruck.

Nobody understands precisely why we feel these kinds of sensations. Sure, we know physical activity can elevate depression and make us feel happy. WebMD points out that exercise releases endorphins that “trigger a positive feeling . . .  similar to that of morphine.”

But these are just emotional reactions triggered by chemicals in our brains brought on by exercise. What science has yet to discover is why nature—in and of itself—has the power to fill us with these kinds of positive emotions.

Spending time in the natural world can even grant us the power to be inspired to do great things, or to pause and wonder about the forces that created her.

To put this in perspective, we don’t head out into the wilderness to feel morbidly sad. We don’t gaze over panoramic vistas and feel immobilized by sensations of gloom. And if you’ve seen this recent photo taken from the new James Webb telescope . . . we don’t gaze into the universe and feel overwhelmed by the futility of life.

Embed from Getty Images

Dare I say it almost seems like the human brain was designed this way?

I shall not. Because in my former life as a Christian, and when suffering from frequent bouts of apocalyptic gloom, there were many things I witnessed in nature that did not trigger encouraging emotions. Terror and the fear of punishment by God perhaps. Or, like when considering the thorns on a rose bush, how nature had been cursed; as though it had been “re-created” after the fall of Adam and Eve to make my life more harsh and unbearable.

Why nature has the ability to flood our minds with positive emotions is a mystery. / Photo by Scott R. Stahlecker

So, no. I can’t say that the mind was designed to feel only positive emotions when in the wilds of nature. However, I know that many god-fearing believers do, and I can appreciate how time spent in nature inspires them to feel connected to the unknown forces that shaped our universe.

As for Naturalists I can only speak for myself. No matter what nature is doing when I’m witnessing her in action I’m always aroused by sensations of awe. Stripped of any philosophical or religious baggage my mind is free to be captivated by her natural wonders.

Whether sitting on a beach watching a sunset or getting caught in a lightning storm threatening me with annihilation, it’s all good. I need not ascribe supernatural sources to her seemingly, unchecked forces. Or assume these powers are orchestrated by the whim of God to chasten me for lessons unlearned or deeds gone unpunished.

And while there are moments in which I have indeed been struck by her terrors, I’m still amazed at how even these moments can flood my mind with feelings of bliss to spiritual reverence.

About Scott R. Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is a former minister for the Seventh Day Adventist Church, but parted ways with religion in 1990. His books include the novel Blind Guides and Picking Wings Off Butterflies. You can read more about the author here.

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