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  • Writer's pictureGayle Scroggs

Why You Need Awe Experiences

Discover awe’s huge but hidden benefits for doing and feeling your best.
“I want to be constantly in awe of the possibilities of the universe.” ~ Kameron Hurley
Ready to stop languishing and feel great again? Want to add energy and zest to your daily routine? Then hit the pause button.

That’s right--block out time off. Take hours, days, or more to seek awe-inspiring experiences. The ones that take your breath away. The ones you never forget. Where could you go to experience jaw-dropping wonder? What gives you goosebumps?

You will not regret it. The time out will more than pay for itself when you get back to your normal schedule. If your inner saboteur is whispering that you’d only be wasting valuable time and money, be assured it is wrong. Data reveal that awe enhances thinking, feeling, and relating. It is a uniquely human phenomenon that lets us pivot floundering to flourishing, from struggle to success, from loneliness to connection.

As the global pandemic and other concerns led to shrinking our adventures, life lost a lot of its luster. But it should become a dreary slog as prolonged stress and negativity impede well-being. Awe experiences are desirable for their own sake, of course, as they are highly pleasant sensations. But did you know that the psychological benefits persist? The energy and inspiration kindles by awe will nourish you long after, as innovative research demonstrates.

“Awe is the salve that will heal our eyes.” ~ Rumi

Go for moments that take your breath away

Awe refers to emotional experiences that combine reverential respect with wonder or even fear (but let’s not aim for that).

It arises in the presence of phenomena that surpass our current understanding. We can find it in the cosmic (solar eclipses, the aurora borealis, spectacular sunrises, rainbows, etc.), the earthly (Mt. Everest, the Grand Canyon, lavender fields in Provence, etc.), and the living (soaring eagles, newborns, etc.).

Paradoxically, the very vastness of many awe phenomena makes us feel smaller, insignificant in comparison, triggering feelings of connection to others or something larger than ourselves.

While immersion in nature may be the best known way to elicit such transcendent experiences, you can find it elsewhere. “Impossible” shots in basketball, golf, and tennis become legendary. Concert crowds hush in astonishment before erupting into shouts of “Bravo!” and “Encore!” We are also moved by great acts of courage or kindness. And who could fail to be awed by the bravery of those on the frontlines in a crisis or by the miracle of childbirth?

Where do you find awe?

Recall one of your most awe-inspiring experiences. Where were you? What was happening? Who was there? How did you feel?

One of my top spots goes to my enchanted childhood summers in Yosemite, something John Muir would understand. It forever changed my relationship with nature, creating a lifelong respect and connection for our world.

In danger of being loved to death, Yosemite National Park draws millions annually. There’s just something astonishing about panoramas of granite domes, impressive sheer cliffs, and spectacular waterfalls that draws the multitudes.

The grandeur of the sequoias in the famed Mariposa Grove (sadly threatened by fire as I write) always leaves me breathless. I’ve witnessed tourists pour out of buses and amble noisily toward the trailhead—then pause, mouths agape, once they see the first huge specimens. They then tread as reverently as they might entering a majestic Gothic cathedral.

Most days, at our family’s cabin, we lolled in hammocks under towering ponderosa pines and splashed in crystal waters bounded by massive granite boulders. Around the night campfire, we marveled at the infinity of stars and the Perseid meteor showers in a silence broken only by the soulful howl of coyotes.

Where have you find awe? How has it changed you? How does it sustain you?

“Awe is the beginning of wisdom. Awe is the beginning of education.” ~ Matthew Fox

How awe benefits you—and the world

All of us spontaneously appreciate awe in the moment--whether it’s a glorious sunset over the sea or watching millions of starlings swarm overhead.

The good news from the young science of awe is that psychological benefits of awe experiences linger. Most notably, they raise your mood and life satisfaction. As you slow down to appreciate the here-and-now, make time seem more abundant, writes Summer Allen for the Greater Good Science Center. It can even reduce stress and bodily inflammation.

In his TED talk, Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., GGSC founder and awe expert, describes more findings, including enhanced critical thinking. Awe also leads to more balanced perspective on our place in the universe and deepens our sense of connection with the cosmos and other beings.

The result is greater generosity, humility, and cooperation. Given the propensity for awe to contribute to our individual and collective well-being, Keltner advocates for building more awe into our culture and into our daily experiences.
With such a host of benefits, shouldn’t awe be on your agenda? Get started by create an awe bucket list that fits your budget and includes experiences ranging from Awe with a capital “A” to awe with a little “a.”

Daily life offers an infinity of moments for wonder. The secret, I have found, is to stop and simply behold the world as a miracle. You don’t need to go anywhere. Even vicarious awe through books and videos, as well as personal memories, offers benefits. (Have you tried Bing wallpaper desktop images?)
Whenever you’re feeling stressed by work or bored by humdrum, take an awe break. In a troubled world, you still have the power to direct your attention to the most health-giving experiences possible—including awe. May you find it soon and often.

“Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you.” ~ Wayne Dwyer

Image credits: Yosemite Valley ©Gayle Scroggs; Silhouette & sunset @Lauren Nicole Dahlin
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