The holidays can be a magical time. They can also leave us tired and overwhelmed. One thing is for sure – regardless if you celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter solstice, or all of the above – it is a time when you most likely experienced a sense of ‘awe’.
Experiencing awe is an emotion comparable to wonder. Experiencing awe is feeling like we’re in the presence of something larger than ourselves—be it a natural wonder, a work of art, or feats of athleticism or altruism—that defies our understanding of the world and makes us feel like we’re one small part of a vast, interconnected universe.
For me, I experienced a sense of awe as I watched an amazing sunset on New Year’s eve cascade over the ocean. I experienced a sense of awe when I noticed the full moon on Christmas night.
Personally, being pregnant, also inspires a sense of real awe. Not that there aren’t things I don’t like about it, but when I think about what my body is doing – actually creating a child – it just blows my mind. I’m in awe of the process.
Perhaps you experienced awe at some point this holiday season as well? Be it outside in nature, at a music concert, or social gathering.
The Benefits of Awe
Awe, is an emotion—like gratitude and happiness before it—that had been neglected as a topic worthy of scientific attention. However, several studies published in 2015 suggest some profound, previously overlooked benefits associated with awe.
A recent study, by UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, found that experiencing the emotion of awe and wonder, can promote lower, and healthier levels of cytokines. Sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health and such disorders as heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease and clinical depression.
This suggests that the things we do to experience awe—a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art—has a direct influence upon our health and life expectancy.
We all know that a healthy diet and lots of sleep and exercise bolster the body’s defenses against physical and mental illnesses. The Berkeley study, takes it a step further, and is one of the first to look at the role of awe and other positive emotions and how they impact our health.
So, rather than creating another goal or new year’s resolution – consider setting a simple intention of experiencing a sense of awe every day.
Be present, take notice, savor and marvel at the world around you. Fall in love with life again.
How can we experience a sense of awe more often?
Here are 3 simple ways to experience awe and wonder more often:
1. Look up
Awe can happen for us in the simplest of moments, like walking home from work and looking up at the evening sky. Take more time out of your day to look up at the changing sky.
2. Get Outside in Nature
Nature is the ultimate source of awe. Just being outside can conjure up feelings of wonder and give you perspective. So, plan a hike in a spot that’s known for its vast spaces and natural beauty.
Spending time in large groups, whether at concerts, a yoga or meditation class, or political rallies, often stirs feelings of awe. Research shows that social experiences have a way of creating a sense of awe.
Share the Awe
Not only does awe boost our health, but awe also makes us more likely to be more kind and generous to others.
Awe just might be the ultimate “collective” emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good.
Awe can help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest – motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable cohesive communities.
So this year, insist on experiencing more awe every day. Actively seek out what gives you goose bumps.
Cheers to a year of awe!
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