When you look back on the times you felt the most awe-struck, what do you remember? Perhaps you experienced an extreme sense of awe when viewing the Grand Canyon, or walking through the streets of Manhattan looking up at the towering skyscrapers above. Or, perhaps you experienced it while enjoying some live music… hearing the intensity of well-performed music is a common trigger of awe.
Regardless of what you find particularly awesome, you probably know the sensation all too well: Feeling incredibly small, yet part of something much bigger than yourself. A group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, described awe as “that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world,” in a 2015 study.
Why Is Awe Important?
Sure, experiencing awe is really fun, but is it actually important for living a healthy, happy life? Researchers say yes. In their 2015 study, the University of California, Irvine, researchers found that more frequent brushes with awe correlates with more altruistic behavior, as well as an increased tendency toward empathy and loving-kindness.
And that’s not all. According to Psychology Today, people who regularly experience awe tend to have lower levels of cytokines, markers of inflammation. And we all know what inflammation can do to our health (it’s not good).
“These experiences evoke wonder and amazement,” writes Amie M. Gordon, PhD, for Psychology Today. “They aren’t just pleasurable, they’re transformative, encouraging us to contemplate the meaning of life and see ourselves as part of a larger picture.”
How To Experience Awe More Often
It’d be great if we could all regularly jet off to new locales and experience new landscapes and changes in scenery, but unfortunately, mass travel just isn’t realistic. But there are plenty of ways to experience awe in your everyday life… You just have to put a little effort into it. Here are some ideas.
- Go for a hike. Standing at the top of a hill looking out over a beautiful landscape is one of the most surefire ways to generate feelings of awe.
- Get up early and watch the sun rise. Sunset is gorgeous, but we also see it relatively frequently. Fewer of us get the chance to see the sun come up in the morning, castings its fresh pink rays over the land.
- Look at the stars. But not just in passing. Go out of your way to get a great view of the galaxy by driving out into the country and stargazing in complete darkness.
- Take a very slow walk. On a beautiful day, take a walk around your block… but go slowly. Take the time to peer in between flower petals, to smell lilac blossoms, and to watch squirrels and birds as they play and frolic.
- Be a tourist in your own city. Check out new neighborhoods, public parks, museums and interesting venues.
- Consume inspiring media. Instead of the same-old news stories, seek out media that will uplift you and leave you feeling awestruck, such as travelogues, birth stories or nature documentaries.