I will tell you an interesting fact. Spiritually-oriented people report higher levels of happiness (Myers, 2000). One reason is community and the other is the feeling of awe. Wikipedia defines awe as:
A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder
You could also describe it as a sense of being surrounded or taking part in something much bigger than yourself, something sacred, something beyond your understanding. The reason people who experience awe on regular basis are happier is that their mind is suddenly very present, there is no noise, only the realization that things can’t be any better than they are at that moment. Your heart might want to burst from happiness, or you might shed tears of joy for truly finding yourself. One thing is for certain: you won’t ever forget those moments.
So when was the last time you were left speechless in a positive situation? How many can you count? If you are like most people, you probably can’t think of many examples. This is sad. It’s one of the most uplifting feelings we can have, yet we don’t stop to think how we can feel awe more often.
Benefits of Awe
Every positive feeling comes with a certain set of benefits. Awe is no exception to this. Here are some remarkable examples:
- Happiness boost
- Increased intellectual curiosity
- Deepened sense of modesty and humility
- Lower cytokine levels (lower impact on immune system)
Ever since taking The Science of Happiness course from University of Berkeley, the subject of awe resonated with me. People take awe for granted and even scientists are only now beginning to study awe more seriously as it relates to happiness. A new study is finding that while experiencing awe, the concept of time is slowed down or ceases to exist entirely (Jake Abrahamson, 2014). This means we can feel as though we have more time on our hands, even if we don’t, just by experiencing awe! Wouldn’t everyone want that?
I am a firm believer that you don’t have to go far or spend money to feel awe in your every day life. Anywhere you live, there exists a place that will blow your mind away. Anywhere you live, there are sunrises and sunsets. Anywhere you live there are creations. Our job is to seek them out regularly to expand our view on life and boost happiness.
“That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions—a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art—has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.” – Dacher Keltner
We know that emotions are contagious. If one person is experiencing awe and the person next to him or her is observing their reaction, it is very likely that the observer will also experience awe to an extent. You might be thinking, it’s time to spread some awe around! And you are right. The more we do this, the more we touch lives in a positive way.
Below you will find 7 ways to experience awe in every day life. It is not a conclusive list, merely it is a mix of my own experiences, observations, and research. Here we go:
Take a walk through nature.
This may be an obvious one but probably more than half the people don’t do it. You really need to set time aside for this and commit to it if you want to feel happier. Pick a new discovery trail in your city each week and observe the wild life. Listen to the sounds of animals. Follow your gaze down the river or a stream. Marvel at the complexity of branches in a tree. Count the different plants you see and try to name them. Admire how long that particular environment has been around and will continue to be around for. No trails where you live? Pick a park, sit on a bench, and just observe what’s going on around you.
Lie under the stars.
Everyone wants to do this, but how many of us have actually done it? Pick a campground near your city or better yet, travel to country land or national park. If you live in a big city, the chances of seeing a spectacular show of stars is very limited so avoid the city if you can. Once settled, enjoy the star gazing and constellation searching. You will be awed by the sheer number of stars, the size of the universe, and might even catch a falling star.
Meet an inspirational teacher in person.
This is a public figure that you look up to that you learned good life lessons from. Meeting this person will make you feel humbled, honoured, and awed by their presence. Sign up for a live seminar and prepare a few questions to ask. If you can’t afford to do this or are unable to for other reasons, sign up for a webinar instead or simply watch them on a free streaming site like YouTube. Some great spiritual teachers to follow include: Deepak Chopra, Rupert Spira, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Dalai Lama.
Climb a mountain.
Setting a goal to climb a mountain should be enticing enough but of course it doesn’t compare to the feeling when you are actually on top of the mountain looking down on mother nature. You will be awed by the vastness around you and the beauty that you only see in paintings. Also, let’s not forget the feeling of accomplishment of having climbed the mountain and telling your children and friends about it one day. Mt. Fuji is on my list to climb one day and I will definitely share my experience when I accomplish it. Of course climbing a mountain could pose a problem if you have a physical constraint. If this is the case, choose a hill instead or any high point in your area, or simply stand on a high bridge to admire what’s below you.
Go whale watching.
Not only are whales some of the smartest animals on earth, they are also the largest. Imagine for a second watching a 30-meter (or 100-foot) blue whale rise out of the water. I know I would be stunned. This is also on my to-do list when I visit Nova Scotia one day. Whale watching is available in both southern and northern hemispheres, as well as the equator. Don’t miss a chance to see this giant up close!
Witness a birth.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to witness the birth of a baby boy or a girl, however those who have witnessed it know that this is truly the single most amazing moment in their lives. No matter how many times women give birth, each time is special because they give the gift of life to another being. As an alternative, there are a ton of videos on YouTube to watch if you just type “giving birth” (warning: they will be graphic but remember you are witnessing something greater than yourself, and seeing the parents’ joy is definitely worth it). As another alternative, you could witness the birth of an animal or animals if you get in touch with someone who breeds animals and share your wish.
Any creation, large or small, is unique because the creator himself or herself is unique. And anything unique is worth of awe. If you enjoy music, try composing, experimenting with sounds, playing your own song on an instrument, choreographing a dance, or forming a band that you always wanted to form. If you enjoy visual arts, give drawing or painting a try, make objects out of clay, design your own greetings cards. Or if you prefer handiwork, make a treasure box or a gift box or a piece of jewellery. The possibilities are endless. Remember there is no such thing as perfection. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Your creations will also mean a lot to someone close to you.
He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed. – Albert Einstein
Awe is essentially in everything and everyone. It is in the innocence of children, in laughter, in changing seasons, in fire, water, earth, and air, in our beliefs. We need to tune in to the whispers of awe every once in a while and make it a daily habit to notice the extraordinary in the ordinary.