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Embracing Awe

by Beth on July 9th, 2024

I wrote a blog about awe just before the Rio Olympics. Anticipating the Olympics in Paris has made me think about awe again. In his book on the topic, Dacher Keltner defines awe as “the emotion we experience when we encounter vast mysteries that we don’t understand.” It brings us joy, meaning, and a sense of community. Awe is linked to increased creativity, enhanced cognitive capacities, and greater kindness and compassion.

When you experience awe, your sense of self disappears. You feel like you are a small part of something much larger. Keltner demonstrated this in a study where one group of people spent time in Yosemite National Park and another group visited Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. When he asked the participants to draw themselves on a piece of paper, the self-drawings of the people looking at the awesome view of the park were 33 percent smaller than those of the people looking at the wharf.

Experiencing awe reduces our stress levels. We ruminate less about the past and worry less about the future because awe helps put these concerns into perspective. Feeling part of a larger whole can also reduce the loneliness that so many people experience today.

Keltner identifies eight wonders of life that can inspire awe:

  1. moral beauty – acts of kindness, strength, courage, and overcoming obstacles by others
  2. collective effervescence – shared experiences during events, like concerts or graduations
  3. nature
  4. music
  5. visual design, art, and architecture
  6. spirituality and religion
  7. epiphanies – moments when we learn something profound that reshapes our world view
  8. life and death

Research shows that people experience awe two to three times a week. The most common source of awe is moral beauty. Here are some ways to up your awe:

  1. Watch the Olympics – the remarkable physical and mental strength displayed by the athletes and the challenges they overcome is truly awe inspiring
  2. Attend a live sporting event – in addition to witnessing the moral beauty demonstrated by the athletes, you will experience the collective effervescence of watching and celebrating together with others
  3. Take an awe walk – spending time in nature and focusing on trees, water, a sunrise, a sunset, or the night sky reminds you of the vast mysteries of the natural world (watching a National Geographic documentary also works)
  4. Go to a live concert – you will be awed by the complexity of the music, the emotions you feel, and the collective effervescence you experience while moving in unison with others
  5. Visit a museum – looking at art can stir your emotions, cause you to see the world in a different way, and connect you to something larger than yourself
  6. Read books or watch movies of inspiring people

Regular doses of awe can boost your well-being. What will you do to bring more awe into your life?

From → Emotions, Well-being

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