Eye-popping, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, toe-flopping, AHHHH moments feel, oh so good. Ah, yes… “awe.” Technically defined as “an overwhelming feeling or reverence, wonder, admiration, produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.” So . . . can being in a state of awe improve your health?
A new study on being in awe, conducted by researchers from Stanford and the University of Minnesota, was recently published in Psychological Science. The researchers concluded that participants who experienced awe felt more satisfied in life, were less impatient, and even felt more in the “present.” The study suggests that feelings of awe could heighten the savoring of pleasurable moments.
Psychology professor at University of California, Berkeley, Dacher Keltner, PhD, believes that subtle sensations such as awe, compassion, and forgiveness are what make us “good.” He points out that cultivating awe unlocks the truest sense of life’s purpose. Keltner’s book, Born to Be Good, delves into studying positive emotion. He refers to this as “Jen Science,” in honor of the central teachings of Confucius called the concept of Jen. Jen Science studies the complex emotions that transpire between people, such as respect, humanity, and kindness.
Keltner and a team at the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory are in the process of trying to decipher where awe originates in the brain. Their preliminary research indicates that awe increases oxytocin, making us feel warmth toward others and triggering a response in the brain that becomes active when we are touched. This is unlike the brain’s response associated with self-interest, suggesting awe resembles more of a bond with mankind. Perhaps this is why people are more apt to volunteer their time to help others and more strongly prefer experiences over material items when they experience awe.
So many of us are pressed for time, oftentimes feeling there are never enough hours in the day. Too much to do in too little time can lead to a barrage of side effects such as stress and trouble sleeping. However, in the Stanford study, researchers suggest that feelings of awe may possibly even expand the perception of time and increase time availability. Awe evokes a sense of timelessness. Lead author of the study, Melanie Rudd, points out that our perception of time impacts our well being. “The idea that an emotion can alleviate this problem [lack of time] is an incredible idea to me,” she states.
People often experience awe by exposing themselves to nature, art, and music . . . generally under minimal time pressure. However, awe-inspiring moments are everywhere. Miracles are everywhere. An awe moment could take your breath away when you least expect it: the random flower growing from a crack in the sidewalk, the look on a child’s face at an amusement park, a shooting star. The human body itself is a wonder. We often take the “miracle of life” for granted. Even a thought or a realization can make us in awe. Try experiencing new things. Do something you have never done before. You may find yourself amazed with something awesome.
If you find yourself getting caught up in the triviality of life, first take a deep breath. Then, try replaying and visualizing those marvelous majestic “awe” moments in your mind. Instead of turning into a big bundle of panic and fear when life throws us curve balls, put things in perspective. Being in awe of the ocean or the moon, for example, helps us to look beyond ourselves and reminds us of something bigger. When in a state of awe, it is next to impossible to focus on the inconsequential. If you stop and really think about everything that exists in this universe, it just may alter your understanding and outlook of your circumstance.
In the words of Albert Einstein, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” Open your eyes to the wonder and dwell in awe.
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“Being in Awe Can Expand Time and Enhance Well-Being.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 July 2012. Web. 30 Aug. 2012. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120719161901.htm.
Hochman, David. “The Science of Awe and Fulfillment – Oprah.com.” Oprah.com. N.p., Dec. 2010. Web. 30 Aug. 2012. https://www.oprah.com/health/The-Science-of-Awe-and-Fulfillment/1.
Keltner, Dacher, PhD. “FIRST CHAPTER ‘Born to Be Good’.” NYTimes.com. NY Times, 18 Jan. 2009. Web. 30 Aug. 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/books/chapters/chapter-born-to-be-good.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all.
KRUHLY, MADELEINE. “Study: Awe-Inspiring Experiences Change Our Perception of Time.” The Atlantic. N.p., 23 June 2012. Web. 30 Aug. 2012. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/07/study-awe-inspiring-experiences-change-our-perception-of-time/260138/.