Skychology is the new wellbeing trend that can benefit us all. It doesn’t cost a penny, can have an immediately calming effect and will continue to work, however many times you do it. We asked positive psychology coach and Skychology founder Paul Conway to tell us more…
Words: Annie Ridout
It’s no secret that time in nature – and away from screens – is good for us. We hear it all the time. And there are myriad studies proving the health benefits, including a Harvard paper that says 20 minutes a day in nature can actually reduce cortisol levels (that’s the stress hormone).
But while we may nod in agreement and pledge to spend more time in nature, sometimes it’s hard to know how to spend time in the great outdoors, especially if you’re living in a built-up urban area. And that’s where Skychology comes in.
A new area of wellbeing research, Skychology – the psychology of looking up at the sky – was developed by positive psychology coach Paul Conway. He wanted to know what we experience when we look up at the sky and how it affects our wellbeing.
“I had an unhappy childhood,” he says, “but found solace, peace and a greater sense of wellbeing when looking up at the sky. It helped me to feel better. I was curious to learn if there are others who feel the same.”
So he embarked on a research project that would determine whether this was indeed a practice that could help others, in terms of wellbeing.
“It is estimated that more than 75% of the world’s population now live in urban environments,” says Conway. “Unlike other natural environments (parks, rivers, coastline etc), the sky is always available, wherever we are.”
As hoped, Conway’s study – The extraordinary in the ordinary: Skychology – an interpretative phenomenological analysis of looking up at the sky – revealed that looking up at the sky is immediately calming and contributes to the experience of wellbeing.
It appears to be a highly effective form of emotional self-regulation, he found. It also enhances mindfulness and promotes a greater sense of connectedness and feeling we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.
This sky-gazing practice can also lead to us experiencing ‘awe’, which Conway says is a complex emotion linked positively to wellbeing, perspective-taking, humility, creativity, prosocial behaviour, reduced inflammatory response and enhanced immune system health.
What’s truly wonderful, though, is that the practice of staring up at the sky remains consistently effective over time, negating the effects of ‘hedonic adaptation’, which is when positive practices stop working if we do them too often.
So, how do we get involved in Skychology?
“It can be beneficial at any time, and in any weather,” says Conway. “The sky can often mirror how we are feeling, and/or remind us that everything is constantly changing – including our emotions and how we are feeling. That ‘this too, shall pass’. I call it ‘emotional weather’.”
‘Transitional’ skies – eg. dawn and dusk – appear to be popular, he says, as are night skies. “And nothing in my research to date suggests there are times when we shouldn’t look up, or any other negative effects.”
He has a theory that humans are physiologically ‘wired’ to benefit from looking up.
Look directly down at your feet for 10 seconds
Try to feel happy.
Now look directly up at the ceiling / sky for 10 seconds
Try to feel sad.
What did you notice?
Quick tips for sky-gazing Skychologist from Paul Conway:
Commit one minute each day to pause and look up at the sky. Think of it as ‘me-time’ when you can hit the reset button and feel a greater sense of calm and inner peace.
- Stand, sit, or lie down in a comfortable position where you can see as much sky as possible.
- Take a few nice deep breaths – in through the nose, and out through the mouth.
- Notice what you see.
- Shapes, movement, stillness, colour, contrast…
- Allow thoughts and feelings to come and go.
- Look at the sky as long as you like. I recommend at least 60 seconds if you can.
- When ready, finish with one more nice deep breath – in through the nose, and out through the mouth.
- Notice how you feel.
- What feels different from before you stopped to look up at the sky?