Awe in nature heals: Evidence from military veterans, at-risk youth, and college students


Awe is a mechanism — above and beyond other positive emotions — by which nature experience enhances human well-being

Researchers conducted two separate studies to test the idea that nature promotes well-being through awe. Previous research shows that contact with nature can reduce stress and promote well-being. Previous research also documents the power of nature to elicit awe. The current research combines these two lines of inquiry by examining the role of awe in the process of healing through contact with nature.  Awe as experienced in both extraordinary and everyday nature experiences is examined.

Study 1 focused on awe as experienced in the extraordinary activity of white water rafting.  Seventy-two military veterans and 52 youth (middle and high school students) representing a wide range of racial/cultural backgrounds and life experiences participated in either a one-day or a four-day white water rafting trip. All participants were from under-served communities. Prior to their rafting experience, participants completed a well-being assessment.  At the end of each rafting day, they completed a rafting diary. For participants on the one-day trip (77.4% of the sample), this meant completing the diary once; for those on the four-day trip, this meant completing the dairy four times. For each diary entry, participants were asked to report the extent to which they experienced six different positive emotions (awe, gratitude, amusement, pride, contentment, and joy) during the day. Participants were also asked to complete follow-up well-being measures one week after the rafting trips. Results of Study 1 support the research hypothesis: Awe reported during the rafting trip was related to changes in well-being and stress-related symptoms one week later to a greater extent than the other assessed positive emotions (amusement, contentment, gratitude, joy, and pride).

Study 2 extended the findings of Study 1 by examining the link between nature experience, awe, and well-being in the context of people’s everyday lives. Over 100 undergraduate students participated in this study, which also used a diary methodology. Every night, over a period of 14 consecutive days, participants completed a diary survey delivered by e-mail. The diary survey included Likert-type questions focusing on emotions, social experiences, and thoughts participants experienced during the day. The survey also included an open-ended section in which participants were asked to write about an experience of awe they had that day or about the most positive event of the day. Participants also completed well-being assessments before and after the 14-day diary period. Findings indicated that “the more nature experiences people had over the 14-day diary period, the more daily awe they experienced, the greater daily life satisfaction they reported, which in turn was related to greater improvements in longitudinal well-being at follow-up.”  Findings also showed that “awe, above and beyond the effects of other positive emotions, was related with daily life satisfaction.”

These two studies indicate that awe is a mechanism — above and beyond the effects of other positive emotions — by which nature experience enhances human well-being.


Anderson, C. L., Monroy, M., Keltner, D., (2018). Awe in nature heals: Evidence from military veterans, at-risk youth, and college students. Emotion


A haven of green space: Learning from a pilot pre-post evaluation of a school-based social and therapeutic horticulture intervention with children


Horticultural intervention using garden-based activities may be effective in promoting mental and emotional well-being of children experiencing emotional and social difficulties

This paper discusses the evaluation findings of a pilot school-based social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) intervention referred to as “Haven of Green Space” (or “Haven Green Space”). Also presented is a critical reflection on the evaluation approach. Both the intervention and the evaluation are based, in part, on the “Five Ways to Wellbeing” framework. This framework, while designed to promote the physical and mental health of all people, is also viewed as a way to address health inequalities in a community. The Five Ways are: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, and Give. These five actions are embedded in the “Haven of Green Space” intervention which is designed for school children experiencing behavioral, emotional and social difficulties (BESD).

activities at Glenhaven Park
Camping adventure

Thirty-six children with BESD from three different schools (two primary and one secondary) in North West England participated in the pilot-testing of Haven Green Space intervention. All three schools were in high-poverty communities. The participating children attended monthly SHT sessions over a six-month period, each session two hours in length. Two horticulturists and a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service psychotherapist facilitated the sessions. While activities during the sessions included developing and maintaining gardens on the schoolgrounds, the primary focus of the activities was on fostering the wellbeing of students, rather than productive gardening. The primary focus of the evaluation was on trends in the mental health and wellbeing of the participating children. An additional evaluation goal was to explore how existing measures might assess the Five Ways framework in relation to children’s wellbeing. Two existing mental health evaluation measures were adapted for use with school children — the Mental Well Being Impact Assessment (MWIA) and Wellbeing Check Cards. Both measures were used for pre- and post-assessments. The MWIA is an evidence-based qualitative measure addressing three outcome-related domains: Enhancing control, Increasing Resilience and Community Asset, and Participation and Social Inclusion. The Wellbeing Check Cards assessment is a self-report measure where respondents use a Likert scale to record how they’ve been feeling over the last few weeks in relation to seven statements about mental wellbeing factors. Examples of statements include “I feel relaxed” and “I feel like I have friends.”

Glenhaven Park adventure camps

Results of the MWIA for all three schools showed increases in the areas of “emotional wellbeing” and “self-help.” Findings from the Wellbeing Check Cards were not consistent with MWIA results, in that scores from the Wellbeing Check Cards showed decreases in many of the wellbeing domains. The timing of the post-assessment is offered as a possible contributing factor to the worsening scores, as the end of the program coincided with the children’s last days at primary school. The overall results, however, suggest a positive association between the Haven Green Space intervention and children’s improved mental wellbeing.

While further research is required to verify these findings, this pilot study does suggest that the Five Ways framework and the garden-based strategies used by Haven Green Space have potential for fostering children’s mental health, well-being, and social relationships.


Chiumento, A., Mukherjee, I., Chandna, J., Dutton, C., Rahman, A., Bristow, K., (2018). A haven of green space: Learning from a pilot pre-post evaluation of a school-based social and therapeutic horticulture intervention with children. BMC Public Health, 18