What makes you stop in your tracks, heart palpitate, goosebumps arise on your skin, your emotions to soar, and to feel like you are part of something bigger? Have you ever actually stopped to think about this and what this actual feeling is? And also think about what this feeling might inspire you to do?
For me there are three particular things that evoke a sense of awe and inspiration in my life: music, nature, and seeing miracles happen (what do I mean by miracles? keep on reading!)
Music - I know this won’t necessarily be a popular choice (though a number of you must like these two bands as they are two of the most popular bands in the world), but whenever I listen to or see in concert or watch their music videos, U2 and Coldplay (though think Coldplay Viva la Vida and before), I descend into a shivering mess of insignificance. Whatever it is in, not only their lyrics, but the actual music as well, touches my heart somehow and makes me believe that love is all there is and that together we can make the world a better place. Some of their songs I have times where I can’t even listen to as they are too painfully beautiful for me to deal with i.e., I cry, feel sad, and yet elated at the same time.
Nature - When I was looking into awe I came across this short video that uses nature and music to evoke a sense of awe in the viewer. Created by the Greater Good Centre it is a scientifically (and dare I say it beautifully artistic) interpretation of awe and for me it completely elicited a sense of timelessness, boundlessness, God-ness, Universe-ness, whatever you want to call it. I have felt this in nature as well, even without the accompanying music, especially when going into the Blue Mountains in NSW, Australia, and the Scottish Highlands. These places are so wild, sensually overwhelming, and in particular, the size of the mountains elicit a sense of insignificance and humbleness. What are we to the majesty of nature.
Miracles - When I speak of miracles I don’t mean the mystical kind, necessarily, I don’t want to discount mystical occurrences (if I claim to be an open-minded person than I have to be open-minded), but I mean the everyday miracles that we humans are capable of. When I see news stories of people being kind, loving, and/or giving it makes my heart burst and again, that feeling of insignificance and humility takes over. It reaffirms for me that most of the time we humans are capable of being compassionate, open, and accepting and it affirms my belief in others, in community, and in the bigger picture.
Studies have been done looking at what elicits awe in people, with nature being one of the most prominent; spiritual experiences also rate high, but it doesn’t always have to be big event or thing that creates awe, something small and personal could elicit that response. Comment below and let me know what elicits awe in you. But are you asking what exactly is awe?
According to Keltner and Haidt (2003) and other studies since, awe has been described as “feelings of self-diminishment and increased connectedness with other people. Experiencing awe often puts people in a self-transcendent state where they focus less on themselves and feel more like a part of a larger whole.” The researchers relate this to the concept of flow, that we become so lost in the action, the event, the focus, the feeling, that we cease to feel a sense of individualism and instead feel interconnected.
What are the benefits of experiencing awe and why should we bring it into our lives and the lives of the people around us (i.e., pupils, staff, family)? Studies show that experiencing awe can have some pretty amazing affects on our minds, bodies, and souls. Firstly, because of the physiological response that awe can have, including heart rate changes and ‘goosebumps’, feeling awe can actually lower inflammation in the body. Psychologically awe diminishes our sense of self, increases prosocial connectedness, increases our positive moods, and even can give us a sense of more time. Perhaps, most importantly for all of us, experiencing awe can make us kinder and more generous.
So what could you do today (or tonight) to bring a sense of awe into your life or into the lives of those around you? If you are at home, in the morning or evening, watch this video from Greater Good to lift your mood and get a positive boost for the day. If you work in a school choose to play a song in assembly or class to start the day that kids are loving at the moment, that is positive, and that helps them come together and connect on an emotional level. If you work in a business consider emailing everyone an inspiring TEDx talk, or even consider getting a speaker in who can uplift and inspire with a powerful story.
Let me know how you are bringing more awe into your life, catch me on twitter here - @esioul or on instagram here - Elizabeth Wright.