- Experiencing awe is good for you and there's (lots of) research backing that up.
- Awe is not luxury, you have access to it on daily basis.
- Awe can be experienced in a variety of ways: in nature, VR/videos/images, music and art, religion and spirituality, accomplishments, and more.
To say the world we are currently living in is stressful is an understatement. Universally we are experiencing stressors at work and home, as well as overall moments of anxiety and fear yet at the same time, it is impacting each of us in different and unique ways.
It is times like these where we need to embrace evidence-based resilience practices to look after ourselves and there is one in particular that despite its potential to have a significant impact, it might catch you off guard. It is experiencing the powerful emotion of awe.
With the resilience we already have in us, it tells us that there is no single tool or practice that maintains and enhances our resilience. Instead, we have to utilize a variety of techniques at our disposal.
This is where awe fits in. Creating moments to experience awe is exactly one of the many research-backed resilience practices we can all use to help us look after our mental health.
Dr. Golnaz Tabibnia, a research scientist at the University of California – Irvine, a resilience researcher, explains the connection between resilience and awe:
“Experiencing awe increases well-being and has been associated with improved stress-related symptoms and immune function."
Experiencing awe gives us the opportunity to experience positive thoughts and feelings. Awe experiences can include feelings of wonder, joy, and astonishment while in certain circumstances it can also involve fear.
Let’s be clear – if we are bound to experiences of stressful moments in our lives, it is only fair we also make time for positive moments. This is called having a balance and this is a hardcore element to mental health and resilience.
Dr. Jennifer Stellar, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, explains awe in simple, everyday language:
“Awe is an emotion that we feel in response to something or someone that is extraordinary and challenges the way you think about the world.”
It might surprise some but the positive impact of experiencing awe is profound. Awe can help a person transcend themselves and feel “small” – in a good way. What this means is it helps shape a perspective that does not focus on mundane things to feeling more humble, generous, and connected to others. Each of these are connected to overall wellbeing and resilience.
Additionally, experiencing awe can reduce impatience and negative moods while enhancing meaning and purpose in life, decision making, focus, and it can alter our perception of time – we don’t feel as rushed with everything. It can also help us be more open-minded and cope with uncertainty which both are undoubtedly something we can all work on, especially now dealing with COVID-19.
So, you might now be thinking great, this is wonderful news but awe is only connected to single life moments such as the birth of a child or expensive, lengthy trips to the places like the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon, or seeing the Northern Lights.
Wrong. First, those moment certainly can be filled with awe but is it not limited to those situations by any means. Awe can be experienced in daily moments too. Dr. Michelle Shiota, an associate professor at (Arizona State University, explained during a 2021 resilience symposium for first responders dedicated solely on awe:
“People find awe everywhere, in nature, music, works of art, the actions of other people… in this moment of awe it’s a break – the mind stops processing whatever it was processing before and focuses on something nice. It gives you a chance to just breath and your body and mind a chance to reset. That can be very healthy.”
We must be realistic with what awe can do and what it doesn’t do. Experiencing awe does not make any hardships we are experiencing magically disappear. Instead, research has demonstrated the numerous benefits it can result in including that it can give us a much-needed break from life’s stressors. These types of breaks, which include awe moments, is something we all deserve.
Elicitors of awe are varied but generally it can be with nature, related to space and the universe, connected to spirituality and faith, in music and the arts, interactions with others, and through achievements (ours and others).
Experiencing awe does not have to be a direct experience either. It can be elicited through non-direct means including reading a story, watching a video, looking at an image, and with virtual reality.
Dr. Kirk Schneider cautions us to avoid looking for awe but instead being open to experiencing it:
“If you “look” for awe, you’re probably not going to find it. On the other hand, if you can be open to awe… then you are in more of a position to be grasped by it and savor its intensity.”
Real resilience is not always changing the things around us as sometimes that is beyond our control. Even in those circumstances, the “real” part of resilience is then controlling what we can and also changing our perspective with how we experience it.
Dr. Rick Hanson refers to this as having “agency” – doing what you can. More pointedly, he describes this as “being the hammer, not the nail.”
Make the time for awe and don’t wait for the perfect day to do it, make today the right day to start.