Most people would agree that it’s pretty fantastic to experience something that takes your breath away – it makes you feel alive. Not only that, research has found that these moments of awe are good for our health. A University of California, Berkeley, study suggests that the feeling of awe we may experience during encounters with art, nature and spirituality has an anti-inflammatory effect, protecting the body from chronic disease.
Awe can also improve our relationship with time. A Stanford University study found that awe expands our perception of time by anchoring us in the present moment. People are therefore more likely to feel that they’re rich in time – and who doesn’t want that?
Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt describe awe as an emotion that is “fleeting and rare” and “on the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear”. Sounds hard to attain. On the other end of the scale, in 1964 psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated his theory of ‘peak experiences’ – moments of rapture and wonder in the every day. Maslow emphasized that these moments don’t just come in the form of an intense experience, but from the simplest moments of love, beauty or natural wonder in everyday life.
I tend to subscribe to the latter view. Experiencing awe can be as simple as a state of mind. It’s about exploring the world around us. Getting a sense of something bigger than you are. Widening your gaze, looking out the window and paying attention. For example:
- Go outside and get amongst nature – visit an aquarium and you’ll be reminded of the vast world that lives under the sea.
- Get out of your daily routine and take a different route to work. Look up.
- Watch people achieve amazing physical and mental feats. The All Blacks’ prowess on the field does it for me.
- Take the time to really listen to music. Take in a piece of artwork. Taste a meal.
As we get older we tend to experience less of these moments – we lose our sense of curiosity in the world around us. We’re reminded of this when we witness the world through the eyes of a child. When was the last time you gazed in wonder at the moon?
And please stop saying Awesome… When you mean Good!