Experience Awe and Change Your Life

Author:  Kate Pauley – MFTC 

verified by Psychology Today

Awe-Inspired Mindful Moment

Think back to the last time you experienced ‘awe.’  Where were you?  What scene could you see?  What sounds could you hear?  What did you feel in your body?  Take a few moments to close your eyes to picture and feel in your body that awe producing experience all over again.

Most likely, many of you pictured a nature scene like a tall, snow-capped mountain or the Grand Canyon, or you remembered hearing incredible sounds such as a symphony or opera.  And there is a good chance that the body sensations you remembered included goosebumps or tingling, heart rate changes, and/or feelings of chills.

What is Awe?

While the experience of awe has been around at least as long as humans have roamed the planet, the study of awe is relatively new.  ‘Awe’ and its effects on psychology have only been around for the past 15 years or so.

Awe is that experience that you felt at the beginning of this article.  It is the complex emotion that occurs when humans are in the presence of perceived vastness and a need for accommodation.  Perceived vastness can be defined as experiencing something with immense prestige (quite often this thing is physically large, but not always), for example, it could be a complex idea as well.  The need for accommodation can be defined as violating our normal understanding of the world (Greater Good Science Center, 2018).  This requires us to cognitively redefine our thought patterns to understand the magnitude of what is before us.

Effects of Awe

As you may have experienced in the mindful moment at the beginning of this article, the physical effects of awe typically include tingling in one’s skin or possibly the feeling of goosebumps.  Additionally one may feel heart rate changes or even the sensation of chills.

The psychological effects are powerful and worth understanding as they are vast.  Different studies have shown that awe can produce the following effects: a diminished sense of self, the sensation that one has “more available time, increase[d] feelings of connectedness, increase[d] critical thinking and skepticism, increase[d] positive mood, and decrease[d] materialism” (Greater Good Science Center, 2018, p. 3).  Moreover, it can even make people kinder and more generous.

How Does Awe Impact Society?

The act of experiencing awe has the power to help save our planet; with the perception of the

Woman looking at lake self as small in comparison to one’s surroundings, we harness the power to be less self-involved and more critically thoughtful in protecting and caring about this earth.

Experiencing awe can also help us to care for one another; when we feel interconnected, it becomes easier to care for our neighbors as ourselves, hence why awe leads to kindness and generosity.  Lastly, by experiencing awe, we can gain feelings of happiness for ourselves and we can show up for one another more effectively in this state.

How to Experience More Awe

But how do we experience more awe?  While some personality traits are more prone to experiencing awe, like extroverts or people who are open to new experiences, the experience of awe is available to everyone.  Seek out situations that could elicit feelings of awe and allow yourself to be in them fully.  For example, if mountains or great vast lakes or the ocean are available to you, take a walk outside to experience the awe of this natural beauty.

Allow yourself to stand and breathe and be in the greatness for as long as it takes to fully experience the magnitude of the natural beauty.

Pro-tips:

  • Stand in silence for at least a minute simply breathing and experiencing.
  • Go without your phone to be distraction-free.
  • Go alone (if that is safe for you to do) or with someone close to you; awe is an individual experience so it is not important to be in a big group.
  • Don’t have nature readily available to you?  Try listening to an opera or symphony.  Close your eyes and be in the moment.  Allow the sounds to wash over your body as you take it all in.

Lastly, can you sit and be in awe of the magnitude that is your breath.  Each inhale and exhale, that you do most days without even thinking, keeps your body alive and functioning.  Sit and experience the wonder that is each breath.  Where does your breath go?  How does your body know what to do?  What happens inside your body within each breath?

Go out and Experience Awe

Go out and experience the benefits of being inspired by awe-inducing moments.  If you feel those tingling sensations and/or changes in your heart-rate, you just might be experiencing awe! Enjoy the glory and vastness around you and watch how your perception of the world changes before your eyes.

See my reading recommendations

Greater Good Science Center. (2018). The Science of Awe. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from

https://www.templeton.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Awe-White-Paper_distribution.pdf