I’ve just come home from a holiday in Scotland – two weeks immersed in the beautiful and wild landscape of mountains and lochs. It seemed that every day we’d turn a corner and say ‘oh wow’ – the scenery just took my breath away. I really began to notice how those feelings began to re-charge my batteries, helping me to feel more relaxed and more positive. When the holiday ended I wanted to bottle those feelings of awe and bring them home with me.
It got me thinking about the power of feeling ‘Oh Wow!’ so I’ve done some research into awe, what it is, why it’s so good for us and where we can find it. I hope this post will inspire you to find some ‘Oh Wow!’ moments.
What is Awe?
Awe is quite a difficult thing to pin down and its meaning has changed over time. Today, awe is recognised as a complex emotion that tends to arise when you’re in the presence of something vast that you don’t already understand: “Awe is the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world, like looking up at millions of stars in the night sky or marveling at the birth of a child. When people feel awe, they may use other words to describe the experience, such as wonder, amazement, surprise, or transcendence” (Dacher Keltner).
We’ve all experienced it, even if we didn’t know what to call it. Feeling amazed, inspired, transported, sensations of goosebumps, tightness in our throat, warmth, tingling, tears. The ability to experience awe is naturally within us all, but this ability can be hampered by the pace and stress of modern life so we need to make a bit more of an effort to seek it out.
“Create experiences that leave you in awe, for these will be the highlights of your life” (Ryan Blair).
Why does Awe make our lives better?
We’re often so busy with life that seeking awe may be low on our list of priorities, but research has found that regularly experiencing those wow moments can transform how we feel – it can help us to feel happier, healthier and more connected.
Research shows that feelings of awe can:
- Improve our mood and make us more satisfied with life.
- Decreases stress levels.
- Reduce inflammation in our bodies, and therefore reducing the risk of developing chronic health conditions.
- Make us feel more connected to the people in our lives and to humanity as a whole.
- Help us to feel more generous and kind by encouraging us to focus less on ourselves and expanding our perception of available time.
- Sharpen our minds and help us to evaluate and understand information more easily.
- Bring a sense that we’re part of something much bigger, regardless of religion or belief.
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper” (W.B. Yeats).
Where can we find Awe?
We tend to associate feelings of awe with special experiences or occasions but we can find awe in all sorts of places – we just need to make a bit of an effort to find it. The good thing is, once you start thinking about awe, you might begin to notice all the places it shows up in your everyday life.
Slow down: Create space for awe to emerge in the mundane of your every day life by slowing down and appreciating the small details.
Linger: When you catch yourself in awe, be present with that feeling for as long as possible.
Tune into your senses: What can you see, hear, feel and smell.
Unplug: Intentionally step away from the screen and give yourself the opportunity to connect with yourself.
To build more awe into your life, researcher Dacher Keltner recommends exploring the ‘eight wonders of life’:
- Witness other people’s moral beauty and courage. To begin experiencing more awe, start by seeking out courageous people and powerful social movements.
- Move in unison with others. Try any form of shared movement such as dance, exercise, playing music, singing in a choir, cheering on a sports team or even walking with a friend.
- Get out in nature. You don’t have to visit the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef – your local park or woods will do, so long as you’re aware of what’s around you and you think deeply about the experience. Gaze at the clouds, look up at the night sky.
- Listen to or create music. Listening to a symphony, singing in a choir or playing an instrument can produce feelings of awe.
- Take in visual art or film. Visits to art galleries and museums (in person or online), public art and sculpture, and movies with stunning visual elements can all provoke awe. Just watching awe-inducing photos and videos can improve your mood and well-being.
- Seek out a spiritual or religious experience. The types of experiences that you personally find spiritually meaningful are the ones most likely to result in awe.
- Consider a big idea. The process of wrapping your mind around a new concept prompts a process known as ‘cognitive accommodation’, which is a key competent of awe.
- Witness life and death. The miracle of birth and the tragedy of loss can be tinged with awe, including when they are encountered in memoirs, novels and other forms of art.
Try this to find some ‘Oh Wow!’ moments:
Take an Awe walk: Numerous studies have shown that spending time in nature lowers stress and improves our physical and mental health by decreasing blood pressure, enhancing focus, and strengthening our immune system. Experiencing awe is actually one of the main factors that make nature so powerful. Try taking an awe walk, intentionally seeking to be awed by your surroundings.
Try Awe journaling: Think back to your most awe-inspiring holidays, events, and moments, and take the time to write about them. Where were you? Who was there? How did you feel? Reliving the moment will bring back the feelings of awe and boost your well-being.
As for me, I’m looking through my holiday photos and still saying ‘oh, wow!’ – as well as planning some new adventures.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations).
If you’d like to find out more:
Awe & Wonder with Dacher Keltner – YouTube
Eight Reasons Why Awe Makes Your Life Better (berkeley.edu)
Six Ways to Incorporate Awe Into Your Daily Life (berkeley.edu)
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