When was the last time you experienced a sense of awe? It isn’t a feeling that we encounter very often and it is quite hard to put into words. Interestingly, psychologists are starting to study the impact of awe on people and the results are starting to look interesting.
When we feel awe we are usually appreciating something bigger than ourselves – a sense of something magnificent or vast that produces a sense of wonder, like an amazing sunset or a beautiful landscape. This can change how we perceive things. For example, it is well known that many astronauts had a profound shift in how they saw their place in the universe after seeing Earth from space.
Two of the most interesting research findings about awe are that it appears to affect our social connections and also improves our health. Research from the Stanford University in California found that people experiencing awe seemed to feel like time was slowing down. This made them more patient and less materialistic. It also made them more pro-social, (which is the opposite of anti-social), in that they went out of their way to be more helpful to other people. Secondly, the research also seems to suggest that a sense of awe, like many positive emotions, produces a lowering of chemicals, called pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are associated with stress and the presence of numerous chronic physical ailments.
So, awe is probably helpful for our mental as well as physical health. It can be found by looking at the stars, or standing by the sea, or watching a new baby take its first steps. How will you take a step outside your day-to-day routine and find yourself some awe? It will be good for you.
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