When was the last time that you saw something so magnificent that were in awe? Was it seeing the Grand Canyon, a California red wood, or a famous work of art perhaps? Feeling awestruck is a powerful experience that has many positive effects. I recently read an article called “Awesome awe: The emotion that give us superpowers.” This article discussed some benefits from this transcendental experience, which can help lower stress, boast creativity, and make us “nicer” people.
What is “awe” anyway? Simply put, “awe” is an experience too big for us to truly understand. It triggers feelings of unadulterated amazement with tinges of fear of the incomprehensible. One might experience awe at something as simple as a bright night sky. I certainly had this experience when I visited a friend’s family home in rural Ohio. A group of us went out to a field after dusk and I, quite literally, stopped in my tracks to view the dazzling moon and the bounty of shining stars. It was the sort of brilliance that did not need require cellphones to light the path.
The feeling of awe stimulates your brain. An MRI study has shown that awe diminishes activity in the brain relating to your sense of self. Awe is transcendent. When you feel awe, you are liberating yourself temporarily from your “self.” In these moments you suspend your concerns, abandon your stressors, and allow good feelings to flood you.
Awe can improve your thinking. Usually, we rely on our assumptions; meaning, we expect things to turn out in a certain way. When we experience awe, we are able to focus more on what is actually happening rather than our biased perceptions of the situation. In this way, we become more open to experiences. We become more creative.
Recently, I have opened myself to a number of new opportunities including visiting the Arnold Arboretum (more here) and the Mount Auburn cemetery (more here). The unique and peculiar beauty of both sites sparked small degrees of awe within me. This feeling for me was so addictive. I saw a complex and natural beauty in the Arboretum that made me feel giddy and excited the rest of the day. That afternoon I visited the Boston neighborhood of Roslindale (more here) and I swear that I was so high on awe that I positively influenced my short and, to be honest, uneventful exploration of the area. My experience with awe was so inspiring and addictive that it made me eager to plan out future adventures in the hopes of experiencing the little “awe” buzz once more.
I am now an awe junkie. Today, was a long day at work and my mind kept thinking about when I was going to get my next awe “fix.” I am excited to start planning my next mini-Boston adventure for this weekend. I think “awe” is one of the reasons that I like to travel so much. Seeing new things, especially when they are larger than life or totally unfamiliar, brings me an all-consuming satisfaction.
My experiences with awe have encouraged me to break further out of my comfort zone and pursue things because they are new and different. Awe makes you tingle in the best ways. Awe is a really, really good feeling—mentally, ‘orgasmic’ if you will. My mind is a whore for new experiences and I am not one bit ashamed about that.
Dear Reader, what is your relationship with awe? Are you getting enough of it in your life? If not, I encourage you to explore the great outdoors, travel, or just stay out long enough to see an enchanting, golden sunset. Awe is waiting for you just outside of your comfort zone.
A proper understanding of awe is very important!
Reminds me of the apocryphal tale of John Wayne during filming of The Greatest Story Ever Told. Wayne was playing the centurion who speared Jesus on the cross, and said rather flatly: “Truly he was the son of God”. the director said: “Not like that, say it with awe!”
Obligingly Wayne repeated his line: “Aw, truly he was the son of God.”