Here's Why We Love Looking At Pictures Of The Sky So Much

Looking upwards can offer us escape – and there's science behind why it makes us feel so good.

You’re reading Here, Try This – our month-long plan encouraging you to try something new every day.

The sky seems to make us happy. It’s something I’ve noticed anecdotally: sharing a picture of our dome-shaped overlord, preferably when it’s blue or patterned beautifully at sunset, is almost guaranteed to get more likes than even the prettiest interior decorations.

Social media may be a crass measurement tool for such a pure thing as the endless sky – but hear me out. Those pictures offer a sense of escape; the way the clouds move theatrically, the way they swirl. The way perspective cheats us: that cloud can’t be a mere 50 metres away, can it? Perhaps it can.

More so than ever in lockdown, the sky has been a symbol of expansiveness: representing the potential to imagine, dream, and think beyond our four walls.

“I live in a tiny flat but we have big windows and I can see the sky – I’ve noticed that this has been something I have treasured under lockdown,” Sophie Scott, director of cognitive neuroscience at UCL, tells HuffPost UK.

Social media loves a picture of the sky - they seem to generate likes quickly
Social media loves a picture of the sky - they seem to generate likes quickly

Making the time to look up can let in new perspective, says Helen Edwards, an ecotherapist. You may feel awe, or an intense feeling of “wonder and awareness of our connectedness to others”, she says. You may also get the feeling that we’re a “small part of a much greater ecology than transcends our lives”.

Looking up at the sky increases the range of our visual system and, in turn, engages our imagination, says Edwards. Plus, there’s something comforting about the continual presence of the sky, she adds, calling it “a universal presence beyond our control.”

Finding moments throughout the day, then, to look up and out at the sky is worthwhile. So how’s best to do it? “Be curious about what you see,” says Edwards. “Make a point of noticing and enjoying different textures, colours, contrasts and sensations you experience.”

More than just enjoying the pretty sight, notice how the sky makes you feel, says Edwards. “Does the sky reflect how you are seeing your world, does it offer you new perspective?

“Being curious – how is this sky created, what are its qualities? – encourages a vision beyond oneself, bringing enjoyment and appreciation to life.”

“Being curious encourages a vision beyond oneself.”

- Helen Edwards, an ecotherapist

If you’re outside – rather than inside looking out – you can also incorporate other elements of nature into the experience. “Use all your senses,” adds Edwards. “Taste the air, feel the wind, touch a tree. Sometimes you may want to go to the same place to look at the sky, at other times a new place.

There’s plenty of sky to keep us engaged for a lifetime, but remember it isn’t only the sky that evokes feelings of optimism. Being outdoors in general – and having contact with the outdoors – is positive for mental health, as you’ve probably read before.

“Why? We still don’t know for sure,” says Scott. “But it’s probably lots of factors – daylight is used by the brain to help set our sleep/wake cycle, being outdoors is associated with physical activity, and we did not evolve living in the kinds of buildings we now often live in!”

So next time you’re out on a walk – or staring out the window during a working day – remember to look up.

“Sometimes I enjoy remembering that beyond the clouds on a grey day, there lies the greater solar system and cosmology that is out of the range of my visual perceptive system at the moment – but nevertheless still exists,” says Edwards.

This new year, we focus on fun, not denial (because we’ve all had enough of that). Follow our month-long plan, with a new Here, Try This idea each day, spanning easy ways to engage your body and mind, inspiration for your food and home, and tips for boosting how you feel – inside and out.