October 5

Can the Experience of Awe Boost Health?


When was the last time you experienced awe?

Was it watching a sunset after a long day at work?

Maybe it was playing with your grandchild, knee-deep in water or filling a bucket of sand.

Awe is around us every day, but our capacity to pay attention and experience awe can be limited by our daily lives. We are rushed. We have a mental to-do list a foot long. We are stuck in a rut of the same meals, the same television shows, the same conversations.

Could your life be more awe-filled, and what would that look like?

Researchers have discovered that feeling a sense of awe actually impacts our mental and physical health. Awe can help us rethink our sense of time, pay closer attention to how we feel in our bodies and can actually have anti-inflammatory effects and help alleviate depressive symptoms.

What is awe?

Many definitions of awe exist. The Cambridge Dictionary defines awe as “a feeling of great respect sometimes mixed with fear or surprise.”

The Greater Good Magazine describes awe as the “feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world.” While awe is most often associated with other people and nature, music, literature, dancing, religious experiences and even our own achievements, can elicit awe.

Awe can also be felt as part of the experience of suffering, particularly when we acknowledge how we deal with suffering, how we continue to grow and thrive in hardship and how people endure even during troubled times.

How Can We Experience More Awe?

  1. Slow down. Pay attention to your surroundings, both internal and external. Is there a sun setting? Are the leaves turning color? Did you just finish a bike ride you never thought you’d make three years ago? Are your grandchildren giggling at something trivial?
  2. Look outside of yourself. While we can experience awe within our own achievements and experiences, perhaps the best way is to focus less on the self and more on the world outside of us. Stop to look at others, at nature, at how much amazement exists beyond our own internal reality.
  3. Explore. We are often in awe of newness. We stand on the edge of a hiking path and look at an awe-inspiring view. But first we have to get to the hiking path. A little adventure can often yield a bit of awe. Embrace the uncertain for the benefit of finding beauty in things you didn’t know existed.

The Awe Quiz

Find out how much awe you currently experience in your own life.

The Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory and Dr. Keltner, member of the Great Good Science Center, have used scientifically validated scales to create this quiz as a way to further explore how awe shows up in our lives.

You can find the quiz here.

In the end, the world is a treasure trove of whatever we wish to see. Research finds that choosing to experience positive emotions, even during periods of hardship, is better for both our physical and mental health.

Awe is just one of these powerful emotions.

So rather than sitting on a phone, go outside and watch the sunset. Rather than watching television, go for a walk on a beautiful trail and pay attention to the tiny details Mother Nature is constantly nurturing. Take time to honor the challenges of your life and your ability to overcome hardship, to endure pain and to continue growing.



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