Scientists have long known that seeing landscapes with blue skies and fair weather can brighten our mood. But what about fleeting features, like rainbows, thunderstorms, starry skies, and sunrises and sunsets that are here one moment and gone the next?
Scientists have determined that these “ephemeral phenomena” may have just as much, if not more, of an impact on our states of mind as sunny days. A study in 2022 used computer generated images of landscapes with identical ephemeral features in both urban and rural settings. Over 2500 participants were asked to rank their responses to the images by the sense of beauty they felt, the sense of awe, and how much they might be willing to pay to see a landscape like the image in front of them. As with studies of sunny days, they found that people tended to appreciate the rural landscapes more than the urban. However, ephemeral features such as sunrise and sunset, dramatically increased how beautiful people found each of these environments. Participants even said they would be willing to pay as much as 10 percent extra to see a sunset or sunrise than a sunny sky.
Additionally, sunsets and sunrises showed a significant and regular increase in feelings of awe, a notoriously difficult feeling to inspire. Awe is an important feeling for humans because it can improve moods and enhance feelings toward others. Researchers working on the project suggest that public policy makers ought to think about how to make such ephemeral visions more accessible through city planning and labeling of view spots in order to help public mental health and well-being.