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The Power of Awe

Being awed is good for your mind, body, and society.

We get a positive psychological and physical boost from feeling a sense of awe. Things that are manmade—consider, for example, the rose windows at Chartres—can inspire awe, and so can natural spaces. It’s hard not to leave the Grand Canyon impressed.

The arguments for awe are pretty impressive.

Rudd, Vohs, and Aaker report that participants in their study “who felt awe, relative to other emotions [such as happiness], felt they had more time available . . . and were less impatient . . . [those who] experienced awe were also more willing to volunteer their time to help others . . . more strongly preferred experiences over material products . . . and experienced a greater boost in life satisfaction.”

Piff, Dietze, Feinberg, Stancato, and Keltner learned that “awe may help situate individuals within broader social contexts and enhance collective concern. . . . awe may encourage people to forego strict self interest to improve the welfare of others.”

Shiota, Keltner, and Mossman found that people experiencing awe also more efficiently and effectively process cognitive information.

Awe also may make us healthier. Stellar, John-Henderson, Anderson, Gordon, McNeil, and Keltner linked awe to “lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines.” This is important because “Chronically elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines in the absence of illness or injury can lead to negative health outcomes. . . . elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines have been implicated in the onset and progression of numerous chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.”

The power of awe is clearly awesome. Want to feel and do better, mentally, socially, and physically? Travel to a local museum to be awed by its contents. Take a walk to an impressive vista. Get awed!

More from Sally Augustin Ph.D.
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