Sunsets: the best detox on the market.
Say what you want, there’s no denying that we’re all suckers for a beautiful sunset!
From the deep orange skies to the whimsically pink clouds, a sunset never fails to capture the attention of all who watch its alluring display as it disappears over the horizon. Even now as I’m writing this I am lucky enough to be enjoying a nightly sunset in stunning Seminyak, Bali.
Whether it’s a feeling of nostalgia or a flicker of hope for a new day, it’s no surprise that this stunning phenomenon is both captivating and mesmerising to all.
Recent studies have in fact highlighted this obsession, finding that there may be a connection between watching sunsets and an improvement in a person’s emotional wellbeing.
But before we think about why this is so, let’s first understand how a sunset is able to have all these eye-catching colours.
The colours we see during a sunset is due to a phenomenon called “scattering”, where light rays bounce off molecules in the atmosphere and changes their direction. These light rays can be thought of as waves, with a wavelength defined as the distance between two adjacent “humps” on a wave.
The concept of sunlight scattering. Photo credit: UOI, via UIUC.
Blue and violet light which have small wavelengths are usually scattered to a higher degree, whereas reds and yellows which have larger wavelengths, are scattered less.
During sunset (and sunrise) the Sun is low on the horizon and light must travel further through more atmosphere to reach our eyes. Therefore, by the time the light reaches our eyes there is only red to yellow light which reaches us, as all the blue and violet light has been scattered.
The position of the Sun affects the path length of light. Photo credit: UAF, via SciFun.
This also explains why the lower the Sun goes towards the horizon, the redder the light is; red light has the longest wavelength of visible light and is the only colour not scattered.
So why can’t I stop staring?
Contemporary studies in environmental psychology have shown that simply being in the presence of something you find beautiful can make yourself feel both more connected to yourself and more emotionally aware.
Sunset-gazing could be like a “hard reset” for your brain. Photo credit: Jakubowski Foto, via Flickr.
A study by the same research groups from The University of California and The University of Southern California also showed that these emotions we feel from something like a sunset also make us more generous.
But why is that so?
It could be as simple as a “hard reset” for our minds. The incredible brain power humans have evolved to possess means that sometimes we are too busy to even think about ourselves and our wellbeing.
So, something that captures our attention and makes time slow down almost allows us to realign our thoughts and lets our brains take a deep breath. It’s also recommended that listening to music, meditating or drawing during sunset may enhance this feeling of realignment.
Looking at a different angle, the Sun was also able to give our ancestors and early humans a sense of direction and was the main light source back before electricity. In many ancient cultures, the return of the Sun was celebrated as they did not know where it was going or why it was coming back, yet we lived by this ebb and flow for millennia.
Even bacteria and some plants migrate towards or face the sun throughout the day, so it could be said that we have somewhat evolved to appreciate and acknowledge the coming and going of the Sun each day innately.
So, next time you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, do yourself a favour and go to somewhere to witness the Sun setting – it might be just the remedy you need!