Exploring The Uplifting Effects Of Awe

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”

Albert Einstein (2013). “Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb”, p.229, Princeton University Press

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Ever have your gaze stop in its tracks and temporarily feel yourself diminished in the presence of something vast? Staring into a clear, cloudless sky can seem like you’re looking into infinite infinities. Cosmologists estimate the age of the universe to be around 13.7 billion years and discuss theoretical multiverses and multiple Big Bangs that preceded the last. These are all incomprehensible numbers that baffle the mind and produce a sense of wonder. The relationship between immense time periods and immeasurable distances overwhelms brains evolved for survival in the Savanna.

Many prehistoric civilizations looked into the night sky and likely invented their own constellations with stories as they wondered about where they came from, and who, or what might be out in the heavens.

Back to earth. Immensity can give us a renewed sense of perspective, temporarily diminishing ourselves and shifting our focus from our own concerns. Marveling at how small we are in comparison to other natural phenomenon shrinks our ego.

Like looking into the night sky, taking in a vast landscape too can invoke a feeling of awe. Working on construction vessels, I would climb up to the helideck during the twilight or night hours off shift and lookout into the ocean in all directions and not see any shore or realize how much life is teeming below me. You feel like a particle against the backdrop of the vast ocean.

We can understand the allure of explorers sailing off into the immense unknown before the world was mapped out and no one knew what discoveries lay ahead.

Looking out into a seemingly limitless horizon, whether it’s desert, trees, or water can help us feel closer to nature.

Cathedrals, mosques, monasteries, temples and other places of worship can be breathtaking in their architecture and intricate adornments. These sublime spiritual places through their size and beauty combined with religious ceremony can induce a reverential awe making worshippers feel closer to the divine.

A beautiful view, a seemingly otherworldly work of art by a skilled artist, considering the vastness of nature, contemplating the mysteries of life and taking in the grandeur of the universe can help us create a sense of awe.

What are the benefits of awe?

  1. Increased Altruism & Generosity: When people experience awe, they’re more likely to be generous, share resources, and co-operate with others.
  2. Greater Sense of Connectedness: Awe helps people feel more connected to others and humanity as a whole
  3. Expands Perception of Time: One study found that people induced to feel awe agreed more strongly with statements suggesting that time is plentiful and expansive than did people induced to feel happiness (Rudd, Vohs, & Aaker, 2012) [229].
  4. Decreased Materialism: A few studies suggest awe may decrease feelings of materialism. “people’s post-awe perception that they had more available time predicted their preference for experiences over material goods (Rudd et al., 2012) [229].”
  5. Improved Mood & Well Being: “One study found that people’s ratings of daily well-being were higher on days when they had had positive awe experiences than on days when they did not report experiencing awe.” Not conclusive but encouraging.

Chasing happiness can often lead to unhappiness because we permit ourselves to be unhappy while trying to achieve or obtain happiness. Perhaps we need look for ways to add more awe in our life. By seeking more awe we become happier by indirectly doing more of what makes us happy without happiness being the focus.