Celebrating the Power of Awe

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Celebrating the Power of Awe

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. They to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, are as good as dead: their eyes are closed.”
~ Albert Einstein

Do you often feel like time’s rushing by and you never have enough of it? Do you struggle to get a good night’s sleep? Do you suffer from physical or emotional aches and pains? If you’re like most Americans, you’ve said yes to one of these questions. Here’s information to give you some hope.

The Benefits of Experiencing Awe

Researchers at Stanford University recently discovered that even tiny doses of awe can bring a feeling of greater life satisfaction. Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker from Stanford University and Kathleen D. Vohs from University of Minnesota conducted three experiments published in Psychological Science. Their findings showed that subjects who felt awe, compared to other emotions, experienced that they had more time available for themselves and were therefore less impatient. Experiences of awe can instantly transport us into the present moment.

“In summary, awe offset the feeling that time is limited, which increased willingness to volunteer time, accentuated preferences for experiential goods (vs. material items) and lifted satisfaction with life,” the authors wrote. “Our studies also demonstrated that awe can be elicited by a walk down memory lane, brief story or even a 60-second commercial. Therefore, awe-eliciting experiences might offer one effective solution to the feelings of time starvation that plague so many people in modern life.”

Psychologists have long noted that awe can also inspire people and make them feel more connected to other people. In “Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion,” neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall defines awe as an “overwhelming and bewildering sense of connection with a startling universe that is usually far beyond the narrow band of our consciousness.” Now that’s a “wow!”

In an illustration of this point, researcher Dacher Keltner asked participants to describe themselves while viewing an awe-inspiring sight. Unlike ordinary descriptions such as “I am twenty-three years old and I have brown hair,” test subjects were more likely to describe themselves in oceanic terms such as “I am an inhabitant of the planet Earth.” So it appears that awe changes, at least for the moment, our perception of ourselves as well.

What is Awe Anyway?

The Stanford researchers defined awe as a unique emotion with two aspects. The first is what they described as “perceptual vastness,” or the sense you are witnessing something immense in size, number, scope, complexity, ability, or social bearing (such as someone famous). The second aspect they observed was that awe is mind-bending, somehow altering our understanding or experience of the world.

What drives feelings of awe or wonder can vary a lot from person to person. An experience that might make one person stand with rapt attention may not elicit the same reaction for another. But there are certainly some common threads such as art, music, natural splendor, love, or crowds of people working towards one goal.

Another interesting element is that when people describe an awe-filled event, like holding a baby, the universal and natural expression that we utter is to say the word itself.  “Awe” is what we moan when others describe their experience of awe.

How Can You Experience Awe Right Now?

Think back to the first time you experienced something you never had seen before—the first time you saw snow, the sounds of a symphony, thunder and lightning, watching a falling star. Take a minute and try it with your eyes closed. It only takes a moment to rekindle that sense of awe through powerful imagery.

Sometime stories of courageous people who have triumphed over seemingly insurmountable obstacles bring us the feeling of awe. Have you ever been brought to tears by stories of heroic tales? Now we understand more why events like this have the potential not only to inspire us to work harder and to be more creative, but to make us feel more connected to total strangers.

How can we experience more awe in our daily lives? The research revealed an almost magical paradox. If we take time to do something each day that fills us with awe—if only for a few minutes—we can feel time expanding. We create the time (or it is somehow created) in our consciousness. So make it a daily ritual to listen to your favorite music, read a favorite poem, look at photographs, bathe yourself in the beauty of the outside world and nature, or stare into the eyes of someone you love. Awe is a powerful doorway to the vastness of the universe. What else could make time stand still?

By | 2018-01-19T16:41:36+00:00 January 22nd, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments
Don MacMannis, Ph.D. and Debra Manchester MacMannis, M.S.W. are a team both at home and at the office. Married for more than thirty years and parents of two sons, they are psychotherapists who have simultaneously served as directors of the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara. In addition to nationwide lectures on families, they have provided postgraduate training to hundreds of therapists.

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