Post No.: 0286
Awe is that feeling of intense respect, amazement or transcendence we get when we’re in the presence of something so incredible and wonderful. It’s what we feel when we say, “Wow!” to what we’re witnessing or experiencing.
A source of awe could be something so small like studying the intricate patterns of snowflakes or bubbles, or something so vast like entering a cavernous cathedral or looking at the centre of the Milky Way on a clear night. Awe can make us feel connected to nature and the universe, yet it can sometimes feel a little daunting too as if we are tiny and insignificant in time and space and/or because we recognise that there’s still so much that we’ve yet to comprehend. So it is a complex emotion that, depending on the context, can be intensely pleasurable (awesome or awe-inspiring) or frightening (awful).
Awe challenges our understanding of the world and sometimes our place in it. It elicits curiosity and a learning experience because we’re compelled to explore the source of awe for a moment before moving on (sometimes with the characteristic mouth-wide-open facial expression!)
The most common sources of awe are natural phenomena and other people, but it can be evoked by art, music, architecture, religious or spiritual experiences, or major achievements, for example, too. It’s not always in response to rare and spectacular events for it can also be elicited by everyday events, such as watching honeybees gathering pollen or witnessing the furry kindness of strangers – if only we were more mindfully present and paid more attention to these details around us everyday.
Awe may have evolved to help us to survive in the face of uncertain environments that required group cooperation i.e. situations that are too big for one person to deal with alone. Nowadays, researchers are discovering the benefits of the positive, awesome or awe-inspiring form of awe for our well-being.
One way to try to elicit awe is to take an ‘awe walk’ to deliberately notice and savour the awe-inspiring where we may venture. So go out for a walk – where there’s overwhelming, expansive vastness and novelty is best – and seek for and pay attention to the beautiful details of nature. Savour that walk. Pause for a moment, acknowledge, linger on and commit to memory the sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes and feelings.
With the right attitude, awe can actually be found almost anywhere if we just slow down and explore like a child looking at the world for the very first time. This could also boost our creativity as we ditch our preconceptions and previously-held assumptions about how the world is and how it works. So be more childlike in your curiosity and approach everything as if it’s your very first time.
Use awe whenever you’re feeling bogged down by day-to-day concerns. It alters the way we understand the world/universe (e.g. it makes our everyday concerns seem insignificant or expands our beliefs about the reaches of human potential). It can also be evoked via stories or images and videos, or by the memory of an awe-inspiring event. So you can also find awe experiences via the Internet (e.g. pictures from space, inspiring stories) so have a look at some awe-inspiring media too.
In general, expose yourself to more nature, art, music and experience new things. People and communities who live amongst nature (with the benefits of greenery, plants, wildlife) tend to have improved welfare, reduced crime rates and increased pro-sociality. Awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore and learn, which is the antithesis to de-motivation and hopelessness. Some people find that looking at fractals (like the branches of trees and fronds of leaves) is stress relieving.
Awe is feeling in the presence of something far greater than the self, such as when observing a grand vista, seeing other people do extraordinary and inspiring acts (like exceptional acts of courage, kindness, moral virtue and overcoming adversity), acknowledging the amazing harmony of an incredible community, or encountering points of views that challenge and expand or transcend our existing worldviews and our place in the world/universe – they make us re-evaluate what’s possible or reveal new perspectives. Although only accessible to a select few, astronauts experience what they call the ‘overview effect’, where they feel immense awe and self-transcendence when viewing the Earth from outer space. Awe is related to beauty and spirituality. The feeling increases humility and removes egotism, and inspires a greater sense of spirituality (which doesn’t have to be religious). An experience can be highly emotional in a warm and uplifting way. It is associated with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of depression.
Awe can also counter feelings of impatience, which in turn can make us choose to volunteer or take positive experiences over material objects, which will benefit our happiness further. It can increase social conformity, and can elevate generosity because it reduces the sense of self-importance relative to something larger and more powerful than oneself that one now feels connected to – feeling small yet connected to something bigger than oneself promotes interdependence and kindness, as opposed to self-arrogance. When one understands that one isn’t, and doesn’t feel like, the most important or grandest thing in the universe because one is in the presence of something far greater than oneself, one tends to feel less hubris to think that one doesn’t need other people. Conversely, feeling like one is the centre of the universe and being fixated on one’s own trivial personal concerns makes us forget or not care about other people and makes us feel self-entitled and lonelier. But awe switches this perspective to help us understand (the truth) that we’re not the centre of the universe but exist in only one galaxy amongst billions and billions of galaxies.
Meow. We also like to share moments of awe with others so this can connect people together too – so if you have anything that makes you feel that positive, inspiring or transcending feeling of awe then please share it with us by using the Twitter comment button below. I particularly feel awe when witnessing symbiotic animal relationships!