Awe is a difficult thing to quantify or describe. It’s more of a feeling or emotion that we experience when we encounter something vast, mysterious or profound, something outside your frame of reference of reality that you don’t understand.
It’s something that you can’t quite figure out in your mind, like, ‘Why do rainbows exist?’
Awe can also arise from experiences like witnessing a stunning sunset, listening to a moving piece of music, or witnessing someone do something kind for another person.
Awe isn’t something you can find in the carefully curated highlights that we see on social media. Despite the big feelings it can provoke, it’s an everyday occurrence that we can experience at any time, as long as we are present to be able to recognise it.
It can increase our sense of connection to something greater than ourselves. Awe can make us feel a part of something larger, which can help us feel more connected to others and to the world around us.
It can boost our well-being. Research has shown that experiencing awe can lead to positive emotions, such as happiness and a sense of fulfilment, which can improve our overall well-being.
It can increase our empathy and compassion. Awe can help us feel more connected to others, which can increase our feelings of empathy and compassion towards them.
It can inspire us to act in more prosocial ways. Experiencing awe can lead us to feel more motivated to help others and to engage in behaviours that benefit our communities.
It can improve our creativity and problem-solving abilities. Awe can help us see things in new and different ways, which can stimulate our creativity and help us solve problems more effectively.
I recently listened to Dacher Keltner, an American profession at the University of California, Berkeley, discussing this on The Diary of a CEO podcast. He said,
‘Studies have found that two minutes of awe every day is about as good as anything you can do. It calms stress regions of the brain, it reduces inflammation, activates the vagus nerve that calms heart rate. It’s good for digestion. It’s good news for the human psyche.’
One suggestion to increase awe in your life was to add it into a daily walk. When you go out, pause, take some deep breaths, synchronise your breathing with your footsteps and take in your surroundings.
Look for small things, like a bug crawling on a flower or a bird in a tree.
Then zoom out and expand your perspective to take in the vastness of where you are, looking up at the sky is great for this.
As you do this, you will get into an awe mindset as you begin noticing more of the smaller details that can so easily get lost in our busy lives.
Keltner also referenced a study of people aged 75+ who benefitted from incorporating awe into their lives. At that age, people typically face greater anxiety and depression. They may be losing loved ones, dealing with health issues of their own or facing their own mortality. Over 8 weeks, incorporating a feeling of awe into their walks led participants to feel less distress, less pain and more joy in their lives.
There are several ways to experience more awe in your life:
Spend time in nature. Spending time in natural settings, such as parks, forests, or beaches, can help you experience awe-inspiring moments. Take the time to really immerse yourself in your surroundings and appreciate the beauty and complexity of nature.
Seek out new experiences. Try new things that challenge you and take you out of your comfort zone. This could be anything from trying a new food to traveling to a new place.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment and can help you appreciate the little things in life that can be awe-inspiring.
Practice gratitude. Take time each day to reflect on the things in your life that you are grateful for. This can help you appreciate the small wonders that are already present in your life.
Engage in creative pursuits. Engage in activities that allow you to express yourself creatively, such as painting, writing, dancing, or playing music. These activities can help you tap into a sense of wonder and awe.
Attend cultural events. Attend concerts, plays, or other cultural events that showcase the beauty and complexity of human creativity.
Watch the full segment on awe here – it starts at 6.59.