Imagine you are standing on a lookout gazing at the vast beauty of nature in the Grand Canyon…
How do you feel?
- A sense of personal entitlement and disinterest in the sight
- Bogged down by a trivial stressor; e.g. you recall your co-worker’s complaints from yesterday
- A spine-tingling sense of awe at the beauty and wonder of such a sight
Answers: For most of us c. – Awe
Awe is a stirring feeling of inspiration and wonder, our response to things perceived as overwhelming and vast. It can be fleeting and hard to explain, usually occurring during an experience that we cherish.
Think of the last time you paused to stare across the starry night sky and time stood still. Think of a time you watched your favourite sports team win. Likely you became completely immersed, the stressors of your day in the office faded away and you experienced an abundance of positive emotions.
Awe connects us through experience to something large and significant, reminding us that we are part of something far greater than ourselves – if we are open to the experience.
As J.B.S Haldane wrote,
‘The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder’.
Or as Confucius (551-479 BC) wrote,
‘Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.’
Awe is there for the taking; wonder is all around us. Be curious.
Try it yourself
Don’t think you need to travel the world, or live a lavish life…to find ‘awe’. All you require is 15 minutes (at least), an open mind and somewhere to walk.
For the outdoors types…
– Hike up a mountain soak in the panoramic views
– Walk along the water’s edge, watch the waves roll in on the sand
– Walk to a place where you can watch a sunset or sunrise as you stroll
Or if you are more of an urban type…
– Explore part of the city you’ve never seen before on foot, amazing race style
– Go on a gallery tour, walk slowly giving your full attention to each piece
– Walk through the botanical gardens or visit the zoo, look for a species you’ve never seen before
- Turn your phone off!
- Tap into your inner child. See the world in fine detail, with fresh eyes.
- Go somewhere new.
Research shows the psychological, physical and social benefits of awe:
- Positive emotions including happiness
- Connectedness & life satisfaction
- Sense of purpose, wonder & inspiration
- Generosity and helpfulness
- Physical health & life expectancy
- Improved mood, appetite, sleep & memory (Serotonin & dopamine hormonal balance)
- Negative emotions including depression
- Self – focused mindset
- Fixation on daily stressors
- Feelings of entitlement
- Inflammation (decreased pro-inflammatory cytokines)
- Risk of heart disease, Type-2 Diabetes, Arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and Clinical Depression
(Piff et al., 2015).
Try it for yourself. Be one who sees the beauty surrounding us. Go for a nature hike or trek the urban jungle if you would prefer, taking the ‘scenic’ route to your favourite café. Try to tap into a sense of childlike wonder, curiosity and joy. I challenge you to use this practice to potentially add happiness and years to your life! (For the skeptics…at the very least you will gain some good exercise!).
By Alex Hardy
Breines, J. (2016, March 8). Four Awe-Inspiring Activities. Retrieved from Greater Good Science Centre website: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_awe_inspiring_activities
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The HOW of happiness. London: Sphere.
Piff, P. K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D. M., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(6), 883-899.