Unlocking Happiness & Health: The Power of Awe and Wonder

The Power of Awe

In our fast-paced world, moments of genuine awe and wonder can seem elusive, yet these powerful experiences are vital to our well-being. The power of awe – a profound feeling that arises in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world – plays a crucial role in enhancing our lives, promoting our happiness, and even improving our health.

This article delves into the essence of awe, backed by scientific research and psychological insights, to uncover how it significantly impacts our lives.

Awe: Unleashing the Power of Everyday Wonder

When contemplating methods to enhance your life, the evanescent feeling of awe typically doesn’t come to mind right away. However, in a recently published book titled ‘Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life,’ psychologist Dacher Keltner from Berkley delves into the significance of awe as a crucial factor in achieving contentment.

What is Awe?

According to Keltner, the word ‘awe’ has evolved and adapted to different cultures over time, despite its origins in Middle English meaning dread, terror, and submission. According to him, it can be described as the sensation of encountering something immense that surpasses one’s current comprehension of the world.

Physical Benefits of Awe

A recent study conducted by a psychologist from the University of Toronto has found a strong correlation between the emotion of awe and reduced levels of proinflammatory cytokines. Persistent elevation of cytokines can have detrimental effects on overall health, potentially leading to conditions such as depression, cardiovascular issues, and diabetes.

The Key to Happiness: “Embrace Awe”

According to Keltner, after two decades of teaching happiness, there is a simple solution: Embrace awe. Studies have found a strong connection between experiencing awe and various positive outcomes in life. These include increased life satisfaction, a sense of humility, improved mood, and a decrease in materialistic tendencies.

Awe Encourages Kindness

Experiencing awe has benefits that go beyond just the individual. Various studies have demonstrated that individuals who were encouraged to feel a sense of awe displayed increased levels of generosity and cooperation.

Cultivating More Awe

To enhance the chances of experiencing awe, Keltner recommends reducing distractions, fully immersing oneself in awe-inspiring moments, directing attention outward, and remaining receptive to inspiration. He is of the opinion that individuals have the capacity to experience a sense of wonder on a daily basis.

Eight Awe-inspiring Experiences

Keltner classifies awe experiences into eight primary groups, all of which act as powerful reminders of our connection to something greater than ourselves.

Moral Beauty: Awe at Others’ Courage, Virtue, and Skills

During their interviews with 2,600 participants from 26 countries, Keltner and his colleagues discovered that the majority of people experienced a sense of awe when they witnessed acts of courage, kindness, strength, or triumphs by others. It can stem from appreciating both familiar acquaintances and complete strangers.

Collective Effervescence: Group Activity Awe

Participating in something beautiful can be truly remarkable. Research has demonstrated that people’s bodies, hormones, and brains can synchronize when they engage in activities together, such as attending concerts, sporting events, or religious gatherings.

Awe-inspiring Nature

Keltner’s research has shown that the experience of being in awe of nature is something that is shared by people from all cultures and in all types of environments. “Nature has the power to evoke a sense of awe,” he mentioned during the On Being podcast.

Ego Melting Music

Music has a profound impact on us, triggering the dopamine circuit, expanding our thoughts, and fostering connections with those around us. According to Keltner’s research, physical responses such as tearing up or getting goosebumps can weaken our self-boundaries. Music creation has the power to inspire a sense of wonder.

The Enchantment of Art

Art is a truly remarkable aspect of human existence that has the power to evoke a sense of awe that leaves us speechless. No need to go searching for the Mona Lisa, because researchers have discovered that simply watching a slow-motion video of drops of colored water falling into a bowl of milk can evoke a sense of awe.

Religious and Spiritual Experiences

Irrespective of individual beliefs, any spiritual experience has the potential to inspire awe. A study discovered that reflecting on a previous spiritual encounter can elicit intense emotions of awe and contribute to the dissolution of the ego. Examples of spiritual experiences encompass various activities such as attending religious gatherings, participating in ceremonies, engaging in prayer, practicing meditation or yoga, and experiencing a sense of connection with nature.

Contemplating Profound Ideas

Have you ever had an idea that completely blew your mind? Engaging with profound concepts, whether through poetry, exploring quantum physics, or studying evolution, has been proven to enhance the sense of wonder in one’s life.

Witnessing Life and Death

The last significant category deals with coming face to face with some of the most powerful forces in existence: life and death. While death is often associated with suffering, Keltner argues that it can also evoke feelings of awe and give rise to profound experiences.

Book Criticism: Fascism Used Awe for Evil

The Guardian book review praised the book, but also pointed out that it failed to acknowledge the potential risks associated with experiencing awe. For example, it is mentioned that fascism was skilled at utilizing the emotion through grand architecture and political gatherings.

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