Harnessing the Power of Awe to Change Your Life
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. They to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, are as good as dead: their eyes are closed.” ~ Albert Einstein
Do you feel that time is rushing by and you never have enough of it? Do you struggle to get a good night’s sleep? Do you suffer from physical or emotional aches and pains? Chances are you have said yes to one of these questions.
Here’s information to give you some hope.
Researchers at Stanford University recently discovered that even a tiny dose of awe can bring a feeling of greater life satisfaction. Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker from Stanford University and Kathleen D. Vohs from University of Minnesota conducted three experiments soon to be published in Psychological Science.
Their findings showed that subjects who felt awe, compared to other emotions, felt they had more time available and were therefore less impatient. Experiences of awe seem to bring people into the present moment.
“In summary, awe offset the feeling that time is limited, which increased willingness to volunteer time, accentuated preferences for experiential goods (vs. material items) and lifted satisfaction with life,” the authors wrote. “Our studies also demonstrated that awe can be elicited by a walk down memory lane, brief story or even a 60-second commercial. Therefore, awe-eliciting experiences might offer one effective solution to the feelings of time starvation that plague so many people in modern life.”
Psychologists have long noted that awe can also inspire people and make them feel more merged with others. In “Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion,” neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall defines awe as an “overwhelming and bewildering sense of connection with a startling universe that is usually far beyond the narrow band of our consciousness.” Now that’s a “wow!”
In an illustration of this point, researcher Dacher Keltner asked participants to describe themselves while viewing an awe-inspiring sight. Unlike ordinary descriptions such as “I am twenty-three years old and I have brown hair,” test subjects were more likely to describe themselves in oceanic terms such as “I am an inhabitant of the planet Earth.” So awe changes, at least for the moment, our perception of ourselves as well.
The Stanford researchers defined awe as a unique emotion with two aspects. The first is what they described as “perceptual vastness,” or the sense you are witnessing something immense in size, number, scope, complexity, ability, or social bearing (such as someone famous). The second aspect they observed was that awe is mind-bending, somehow altering our understanding or experience of the world.
What drives feelings of awe or wonder in people can obviously be radically different. What makes one person stand with rapt attention may do nothing at all for another. But there are certainly some common threads such as music, art, natural splendor, love, or crowds of people working towards one goal.
Think back to the first time you experienced something you never had seen before….the first time you saw snow, the birth of a baby, the sounds of a symphony, thunder and lightning, watching a falling star. Just take a minute with eyes closed, remembering how you felt, to have the same effect. It only takes a moment.
Having just watched the Olympics, many were awestruck by not only the performances of the most gifted athletes on the planet, but by the exquisite cinematography, the music and the stories of courage and triumph that were celebrated each day. No wonder that events like this have the potential not only to inspire many to work harder and to be more creative, but to make people of the world feel more connected.
How can we experience awe in our daily lives? The research revealed an almost magical paradox. If we take time to do something each day that fills us with awe–if only for a few minutes–we feel time expanding. We create the time (or it is somehow created) in our consciousness. So make it a daily ritual to listen to your favorite music, read your favorite poem, look at photographs, walk in nature, or stare into the eyes of someone you love.
Interestingly enough, according to Webster, awe is defined as an emotion mixing fear and wonder, and the roots of the word are connected in Old English to pain. Why is this? I think that experiences of awe give us a giant wake-up call–one that is both enlivening but also can be frightening. Awe is a powerful doorway to the vastness of the universe. What else could make time stand still?
Manchester MacMannis, D. (2012). Harnessing the Power of Awe to Change Your Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 27, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/parenting-tips/2012/08/harnessing-the-power-of-awe-to-change-your-life/