The Power of Awe

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.” Albert Einstein

When was the last time you stopped to soak in the beauty of the sunset, or the full moon in the sky on a chilly fall evening? Viewing natural settings is one way to experience awe, or an intense emotional response to seeing something that is strikingly vast, which updates mental schema, or how we organize and interpret things. Awe can also be experienced viewing great works of art or through intellectual epiphany (Keltner & Haidt, 2003).

Research has shown that awe captivates our attention, focusing it on the environment, rather than on ourselves.    Another benefit of awe is that when we experience it we are less preoccupied with control. The desire to have control can be a costly preoccupation, forcing us to spend many hours worrying about how to gain or maintain control over many aspects of our life. When in nature we can focus on things other than problems or concerns we are currently experiencing, allowing reflection and dreaming of possibilities (Kaplan & Kaplan,1989).

Sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee (USA) as seen from "Beauty Spot" Photo by Mark Ellison

Sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee (USA) as seen from “Beauty Spot”
Photo by Mark Ellison

A recent study has some fascinating findings revealing that participants experiencing awe relative to other emotions felt they had more time available, were less impatient, were more willing to volunteer, preferred experiences over material products, and had a greater boost in life satisfaction. According to the authors, these changes in decision-making and well-being were due to the power of awe to alter the subjective experience of time. Experiencing awe apparently helps life feel more satisfying. Experiencing awe is something badly needed in a society obsessed with self, and instant gratification.

Slow down and take time to not only see, but really enjoy the beauty of the natural environment around you. It will change how you view yourself and the environment. Opening the door to awe may provide the much-needed inspiration you have needed in life! It may also lower your stress levels.

References

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Keltner, D. & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17(2), 297-314.

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