Awe is a state of being that is indescribable, yet we use it consistently as a descriptor in our everyday lives. When we exclaim, “Those are AWESOME!” while pointing out our neighbor’s new pair of Converse, what are we trying to convey? Are these sneakers truly sending us into a state of reverence and wonder, or has becoming awe-struck lost its definition in our emotional world? In its truest sense, being in awe is a state of perspective-shifting that can greatly enhance our well-being (arguably more than seeing a crisp high-top).
Let Me Set the Scene
I often visited a friend in high school with a house on a little lake in the great plains. While standing on the edge of the water, I would feel exactly that: very little within something expansively great. Miles away sat the closest town (village): nothing more than a gas station, a bar, and about 100 sleepy residents. Despite us routinely purchasing bait and snacks from the convenience store, the memory of the town never made its way into our view from the house on the little lake. Sparse trees scattered what felt like an ocean of grass, a perfect 360-degree panorama. And although the sun made itself known as it stretched across the sky each day, nightfall was the true showstopper.
Eagerly, the two of us would make our way down the cooling sand to the edge of the bank, the moon acting as a spotlight down the well-trodden path. Sitting, we often fixed our gaze before us on the black water of the little lake as it sparkled with vibrancy and lapped at our toes; the smattering of twinkles just a mere reflection of the performance above. With anticipation, we would lay our heads into the sand below us and slowly allow our eyes to adjust to the expansive horizon. Almost always, we would gasp in sync.
Majestically, a limitless display of stars danced in our view, revealing new depths and rows of light as we focused on the indescribable picture: bright planets, clear constellations, dramatic shooting stars, and the occasional heat lightning shower. With eyes as wide as saucers, the two of us would study the milky way in color, feeling amazed, surprised, and almost frightened at the beauty in the sky. Clarity often found me concerning the gravity of life, and I would feel deeply connected to the friend beside me and to everyone else under the set of stars. Transcendently, I would have a saturated feeling of wonder. Awe-struck.
Why Awe is Important
Although the experience of laying under a spectacular starry sky is only temporary, feeling awe has lasting influences. Not only can we develop a sense of clarity in the moment of an awe-some event (live music, nature scene, a child being born, human acts of kindness, art, etc.), but awe affects our emotions, thoughts, bodily health, and social connections as a general trend for life! Despite awe being mysterious and indescribable, it has several definable benefits. The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center has identified several in their research:
- Feeling happier and more satisfied with life
- A boost of creativity and an encouragement of curiosity
- A greater desire to be generous
- Gaining a greater perspective on life
- Reduced risk of depression, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases
- An ability to suspend mundanity and develop a sense of control over time
- A greater ability to think critically.
Cultivating a positive relationship with awe comes in all genres and flavors, and finding a sustainable rhythm of awesome experiences can be tailored to anyone.
How You Can Experience Awe!
Seeking wonder and inspiration sounds like a heavy task, but do not fear (unless it is the reverent kind). Intentionally establishing awe in the day-to-day is manageable. For some, nature is a holy grail for awe. However, walking through nature just to get out the other side may deliver little when it comes to being awe-struck. Try mindfully connecting with your surroundings: turn off distractions and study the weaving world of nature around you.
In addition to nature, art, music, and science can all be immersive experiences for appreciation and curiosity. Whether visiting a museum, watching a science documentary, going to the symphony, or just listening to a song while lying on your carpet, being mindful of artistry can be a great catalyst of awe. Further, we are fortunate to live in a world of connection and internet; if you have access to Google or YouTube, a simple search for an inspiring story or Planet Earth clip can do the trick. Keep it fresh and try to continually experience awe in new ways!
If you are curious about the effects of awe in your life, how to cultivate a habit, or just how to find different ways to enhance your well-being, don’t hesitate to reach out. Any place you may find yourself today is a great starting point to greater healing and health. We would love to answer any questions and work towards greater wellness.
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