What is awe?
According to psychologist Dacher Keltner, who heads the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab and is considered a pioneer in the study of emotions, “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale that transcends our current understanding of things.”
His three-year research, called Project Awe, was funded by the John Templeton Foundation to learn more about this powerful emotion.
A recent article in Parade Magazine explained that, prior to this study, only the “big six” emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise) got much scientific attention. “Awe was thought of as the Gucci of the emotion world—cool if you have it, but a luxury item,” says Arizona State University psychologist Michelle Shiota. “But it’s now thought to be a basic part of being human that we all need.”
“People often talk about awe as seeing the Grand Canyon or meeting Nelson Mandela,” Keltner says. “But our studies show it also can be much more accessible—a friend is so generous you’re astounded, or you see a cool pattern of shadows and leaves.”
Here’s why this research shows we need more awe in our lives.
Awe binds us together. It gets us to be more collaborative, thus ensuring our survival.
Awe helps us see things in new ways. It prompts us to slow down and be more mindful and often appreciative.
Awe makes us nicer—and happier. It tends to lead to more generous, ethical and fair behavior.
Awe alters our bodies. More awe means less cytokines, a marker of inflammation that’s linked to depression. That could be why spending more time in nature has been linked to lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system.
While technology used to produce a sense of awe for most of us, (Can you remember the first time you talked to Siri and she talked back?), I believe we’ve become immune to those moments. Instead, we may need to go “old school,” and revert back to experiencing nature, great works of art, and music with fresh senses. For me, it’s capturing photos of flowers in my garden or simply staring out into the ocean at dawn or dusk.
How about you? What do you think is AWE-some?