21 Apr Seek ‘Awe’ for psychological, physical and social benefits
What is Awe?
Awe is a stirring feeling of inspiration and wonder that may be elicited from a touching experience in nature, becoming lost in music or in beholding art. It is a response to things perceived as overwhelming and vast, which alter our perception on the world. What one person finds beautiful and motivating, will be different to another. There is no right or wrong. With a mindful mindset, awe can be found almost anywhere, but usually occurs in places with two key features:
- Physical vastness &
Awe reminds us that we are not the centre of the universe, it reminds us that we are part of something far greater than ourselves. It connects us through experience to something large and significant (Piff et al., 2015).
Benefits of Awe?
Awe can be fleeting and hard to explain, although it usually occurs during an experience that we cherish eliciting an emotional response. You may stare across the colossal starry night sky, or even watch your favourite sports team live and suddenly experience a sense of diminishing emphasis on the individual self and sudden abundance of positive emotions (Anwar, 2016).
The psychological, physical and social benefits of awe:
- Positive emotions including happiness
- Connectedness & life satisfaction
- Sense of purpose, wonder & inspiration
- Generosity and helpfulness
- Physical health & life expectancy
- Improved mood, appetite, sleep & memory (Serotonin & dopamine hormonal balance)
- Negative emotions including depression
- Self – focused mindset
- Fixation on daily stressors
- Feelings of entitlement
- Inflammation (decreased pro-inflammatory cytokines)
- Risk of heart disease, Type-2 Diabetes, Arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and Clinical Depression
(Piff et al., 2015).
Don’t think you need to travel the world, or live a lavish life to find this illusive ‘AWE’. All you require is: 15 minutes & somewhere to walk.
Aside from physical benefits of walking, psychological studies have demonstrated that exercise may be the most reliable happiness booster in terms of evidence based positive psychology interventions (Lyubomirsky, 2008).
Try it yourself; The Awe Walk
Try to choose a place of physical vastness or novelty, which can be found in multiple settings:
- Hike up a mountain with panoramic views
- Walk along the shore of an ocean, lake, river, or waterfall
- Walk to a place where you can watch a sunset or sunrise
- Explore a part of the city that you’ve never seen before
- Go on a city art walk and explore different galleries
- Walk slowly around a museum, giving your full attention to each piece
- Visit a planetarium or aquarium
One last thought; would you think that staring at trees for a minute could improve generosity?
A famous study in psychology tested the effects of awe on participants in a top university in America. Participants looked at either a building (not a particularly awe inspiring or renound one) and others looked at towering eucalyptus trees for a minute (Piff et al., 2015). Participants were practically side by side in terms of location. Then the researchers ‘accidently’ dropped a stack of pens…which group offered more help?
Those who looked at the trees, which elicited a sense of awe…
Try it for yourself! Go for a wander amongst the trees, or urban jungle if you would prefer.
I challenge you to use this practice to potentially add happiness and years to your life!
For the skeptics…at the very least you will gain some good exercise!
Breines, J. (2016, March 8). Four Awe-Inspiring Activities.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The HOW of happiness. London: Sphere.
Piff, P. K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D. M., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(6), 883-899.