How Awe and Wonder Can Improve Your Life
f f Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash
Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 6/8/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.
When the waves kiss my feet, the sun rises on the horizon, and the breeze is all around me, I feel small. I surrender. I feel insignificant, and so do all my problems. I become one with the ocean, and my mind subsides for a moment.
So, whenever I need a break from my life, I go to the beach and walk along the shoreline. I feel like all is well again.
This is my awe. But what’s the textbook definition?
What Is Awe?
Psychology Research and Reference defines awe as “an intense emotional response people may have when encountering an object, event, or person that is extraordinary.”
These objects are generally vast in size, significance, or both. Awe can be a positive or negative feeling based on the awe-inspiring incident, and it involves a mixture of surprise, disbelief, disorientation, and humility.
Who Experiences More Awe?
Studies have shown that certain characteristics can lead to experiencing more awe.
- Individuals who are extroverted as they are more open to new experiences
- People with more tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty
- Those who are wiser and more spiritual than others
- People from lower social classes experience awe more frequently
Examples of Awe
Awe can be triggered by nature, artificial wonders, engineering triumphs, the passion of an activist, or a nineteenth-century painting. There is no one way of getting awed that works for all.
Here are a few examples:
- Viewing the Taj Mahal or other man-made structures
- Looking at the towering giants at Redwoods
- Listening to Beethoven’s Symphony Number 9
- Listening to a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Experiencing a personal miracle
- Witnessing the cure of a child’s cancer
- Being moved by certain passages in the Bible
- Watching the Nutcracker ballet live
- Being caught up in a hurricane
- Witnessing supernatural experiences
- Experiencing events like childbirth
- Technological marvels of today’s world
- Watching a solar eclipse or stargazing
Wonder and awe are important to us because they benefit our lives and our health in many ways.
Impact of Awe and Wonder
1. Overall Health
A study found that lower levels of inflammation were linked to feelings of awe. Another research study also found decreased risk for diabetes and heart disease in those who experienced awe more often. As heart disease and diabetes are leading causes of death in America, awe and wonder can help improve overall health.
2. Surgery Outcomes
During a surgical procedure, surgeons usually make an incision at the surgical site. Tubes and other medical accessories may be inserted, and the incision will be sealed after the procedure.
During post-recovery, the patient’s immunity is critical to the fast healing of the surgical site. There is evidence that being in awe makes your immune system healthier, possibly shortening the surgery recovery period.
3. Mental Health
Researchers have found that those who experience awe lean towards pro-social behavior and are more altruistic. These behaviors can shift your focus away from your troubles to the external world, increasing your mental agility and resilience.
When you make an effort to build awe-inspiring activities into life, you experience an expansion of your perception of time. You believe that time exists in abundance, and you become less impatient in general. With the proven health and mental health benefits discussed above, awe and wonder can contribute to a longer life span.
5. Life Satisfaction
According to a study, awe is found to increase connectedness and generosity and decrease materialism. This study also confirms my feelings of smallness when I go to the beach. Researchers call this “the small self” effect, a diminished sense of self that leads to a changed perspective about one’s life and struggles.
Awe is a part of conscientiousness, the need of wanting to complete your tasks to the best of your capabilities.
The modern science of awe is less than 20 years old, and there’s much more to be researched about the impact of awe. But that shouldn’t stop you from finding your awe and experiencing its benefits for yourself.