The benefits of this powerful emotion have long been misunderstood – but a new wave of conversation is bringing awe to the mainstream.
Our emotions play a big role in how we navigate the world. Not only can external circumstances cause our emotional state to shift, but our emotions shape how we think, feel and respond to the world, which in turn can impact our overall wellbeing.
It’s a complex and powerful relationship – but one we can use to our advantage if we focus on cultivating emotions that have a positive effect on our wellbeing.
That’s the thought process behind new research into the power of awe, a powerful emotion characterised by feelings of respect, fear and wonder.
According to the experts, making time for more awe in our day-to-day lives could be the secret to better wellbeing – and while it may sound a bit extreme, making space for awe in your life is a lot easier than you might expect.
“Awe is the feeling we experience when we encounter vast mysteries that are beyond our understanding,” Professor Dacher Keltner, a world-leading expert on the functions of emotion in social relationships and the author of the new book Awe: The Transformative Power Of Everyday Wonder, tells Stylist.
“There are eight wonders that lead us to feel awe: moral beauty, movement in unison, nature, visual design, music, spiritual mystical experience, big ideas and the life and death cycle.”
Those concepts may seem pretty abstract at first, but Professor Keltner – whose new book is based on a career of leading research on this misunderstood but quintessentially human experience – says cultivating awe is a lot easier than you might expect.
In fact, he claims that awe is “one of the easiest emotions to cultivate”, and can offer a wide range of physiological and psychological benefits to those who seek it out.
“Awe produces a mysterious wave of biological responses that we sense in terms of tears of grace, warmth in the chest (from the vagus nerve activating), goosebumps up the back, the arms, and the neck, the drop of the mouth, looking up, and uttering ‘whoah’ or ‘wow’,” he explains.
“Just a few minutes of awe can lead you to feel less stressed, experience less physical pain, enjoy a greater sense of time, feel reduced loneliness and experience a deeper sense of connection and purpose.
“It can also lead our reasoning to be sharper, experience a greater sense of wellbeing and lead us to practise more environmentally friendly behaviours, like eating less red meat.”
In this way, Professor Keltner says that making space for more awe in your life is guaranteed to have a positive impact on how you think and feel – and you don’t need to travel far and wide to experience it.
“There is everyday awe to enjoy – in different parts of the world people feel awe two to three times a week,” he says. “There are so many ways to find everyday awe. Look for awe on your regular walk. Tell a story to a friend about what brought you awe as a child. At work, tell stories about recent experiences of awe at work.
He continues: “Reflect for a few minutes on someone who is of moral beauty to you: a mentor, grandparent, kind friend. Listen to a piece of music that has brought you tears and goosebumps over the course of your life.”
While it may feel strange at first, it’s clear that seeking out experiences of awe doesn’t have to be difficult, and can offer a whole load of benefits you’d never expect.
So next time you’re feeling a little lacklustre, why not take a moment to find some awe? If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that awe actually is all around.
Awe: The Transformative Power Of Everyday Wonder is out now
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