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The power of awe

Discovering the Profound Impact of Wonder

Have you ever found yourself breathless, awestruck by the beauty of a sunset or the magnificence of nature? That feeling of wonder and amazement is known as "awe", and it has the power to transform our lives in profound ways.

The concept of awe 

Awe, defined as a complex fundamental human emotion that combines both fear and wonder in the face of something vast or transcendent, has captured the attention of researchers and philosophers alike. It is different from other positive emotions like joy or happiness because awe often arises in response to something overwhelming or beyond our usual frame of reference. It can be inspired by nature, art, science, or even everyday encounters.

The benefits of awe

Many studies have shown that experiencing awe has numerous benefits for our well-being and mental health.

  • People who frequently experienced awe reported higher life satisfaction and were less likely to experience feelings of depression and anxiety 
  • Awe can also promote a sense of connection and belonging to something greater than ourselves, whether it's to other people, nature, or the universe. This feeling of connectedness can foster empathy and compassion, leading to stronger relationships and increased social cohesion.
  • Awe can make you feel more humble: One of the most profound effects of awe is how it can change our perception of ourselves relative to the larger world. In particular, multiple studies have shown that awe can make us feel smaller or insignificant—what researchers call the “small self” effect. Feeling part of something larger may result in acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses in a more balanced way and to better recognize how outside forces contributed to your successes.
  • Some studies also suggest that awe may prompt us to help others and to be more generous, perhaps because of the way it encourages us to focus less on ourselves and expands our perception of available time.

The benefits of awe extend beyond our emotional well-being. Research has shown that awe can have a positive impact on our physical health as well. When we experience awe, our bodies enter a state of relaxation, reducing levels of stress and inflammation. This relaxation response can also improve our immune system function and overall resilience.  Awe has even been linked to reduced perception of physical pain. 

How to cultivate more awe-inspiring experiences in your daily life

So how can you cultivate more awe in your life? The good news is that awe-inspiring experiences are all around you, waiting to be noticed.

Here are a few practices that can help:

  1. Nature Immersion: Spend time in nature and allow yourself to fully immerse in its beauty and grandeur. Whether it's a hike in the mountains, a beautiful sunset, a walk on the beach, or simply taking a moment to admire a tree in your backyard, nature has a way of inspiring awe. 
  2. Art and Culture: Visit museums, galleries, or attend live performances to expose yourself to the creativity of human expression. Music, dance, painting, sculpture, and literature can all invoke a sense of awe and wonder.
  3. Food: Your daily meals can be an opportunity to practice and experience awe if you bring your full presence and sense of wonder to it, especially if it is tasty, beautifully presented and involves all your senses. 
  4. Interaction with others: rather than being judgmental about the way others might react or behave you could bring a sense f freshness towards them and let yourself be amazed by new attitudes or behaviours you might detect. You may very well discover how "awe"-some of your close ones are!

With mindfulness everything can be experienced with a sense of awe

Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and paying non-judgemental attention to the details of your surroundings or what happens inside of you. By cultivating a sense of curiosity and wonder, you can experience awe even in the most ordinary moments of life.

I remember being in Plum Village, the community founded by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, some years ago and we all received a task to help take care of approximately 1000 people present during the retreat. My task was cleaning the bathrooms.  The nuns were telling us to cultivate a sense of joy and aware of being alive  of taking care of others, of being present for the tasks and the togetherness experienced. We were even singing while cleaning the toilets.

I fully understand the perspective that it can be a bit more challenging to cultivate a sense of awe when cleaning toilets!  Especially in comparison to seeing a beautiful sunset. But it can work if you allow yourself to slow down and be truly curious about all the facets of your experience. In addition you can bring some gratitude to it: for instance, for being healthy, being part of a group and in general for the small and big wonders and the beauty  that exist in the world.

Expressing gratitude and appreciating the small miracles of life can open your heart to awe and thus giving you sense of being fully alive

In conclusion, the power of awe lies in its ability to uplift our spirits, expand our perspective, and connect us with something greater than ourselves. By seeking out awe-inspiring experiences and incorporating them into our lives, we can unlock a myriad of benefits for our well-being, both physically and mentally. 

So go out and let yourself be captivated by the wonders of the world. Embrace the power of awe, and you may discover a newfound sense of joy, purpose, and interconnectedness.