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Cultivating Awe and Wonder for Improved Well-Being.



Cultivating Awe and Wonder for Improved Well-Being
Cultivating Awe and Wonder for Improved Well-Being

I didn’t realize how important to our well-being awe and wonder are until I was on holiday.

Summertime is for many a time for holidays, travel, and fun, it's the time we enjoy being outside more and meeting friends.

It is also a time we can intentionally use to get out of our heads and spend more on increasing our reserve of positive emotions. Awe is one of them.


 

What is awe?


It can be witnessing nature around us, beautiful trees, impressive architecture, a wonderful sunset, seeing our favorite band perform, or watching a small baby smiling.

According to Dacher Keltner from the University of California, Berkley, „Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast, that transcends our understanding of the world“.

His research from 26 cultures shows that people find awe in the “eight wonders of life,” which are:

  • the moral beauty of others,

  • collective movement,

  • nature,

  • visual design,

  • music,

  • spirituality,

  • big ideas,

  • and encountering the beginning and end of life".

 

We can make awe and wonder part of our everyday life.

For example, when I leave my office, the first thing I do to detach from work is to look at the sky: I look at the sky and the clouds and check their colors. I look at the beautiful buildings next to my office and how sunlight changes their appearance. It might sound silly, but it helps me almost immediately to relax.


As I was on holiday, I realized that I took this habit with me: automatically I was „scanning“ everywhere around me to see nature in its smallest detail: the sky, the sea, the mountains, the trees, but also happy people, relaxing sounds, beautiful music. I was absorbing the environment with my mind and body, trying to „save“ those moments.


 

When I returned home and started to search for information to understand what was going on, and why it felt so good to stare at nature, I found out that awe is a positive feeling as important to our well-being as love, joy, and contentment are. What I felt instinctively, has been proven scientifically: awe calms down our nervous system, and decreases our stress levels,


Awe has psychological benefits such as helping us quiet our negative self-talk, diminishing the fear of missing out, or the desire to keep the mind busy simply because awe is the absence of self-preoccupation in the presence of something beautiful, greater than us.


 

If this sounds as convincing as it is to me, there are ways to start your practice:


1. Pay attention and look even for small things that might make you wonder and feel positive about. Feel the breeze of the air, check the sunlight, look at a piece of art, and notice a beautiful plant.


2. Witness the goodness of others, see people helping other people, acknowledge the kindness of a stranger, or spend time learning about inspiring people, and their courage to overcome adversity.


3. Practice mindfulness: avoid distractions as much as possible and instead try to slow down, reflect more, and deepen your breath. Pay attention to all your senses and use them to engage with the place you are in.


4. Take new paths than you usually do when you go home or somewhere else, as awe often comes from novelty. This will help create more openness to new experiences.


 

What would you gain if you'd practiced awe and wonder?


Awe opens our minds to the truth that we as individuals are part of something much bigger than the self. Awe orients our attention toward the good in others, and prompts us to explore and engage with the beauty of the world and nature. By doing that, it successfully detours us from dwelling on worry and negative thoughts about past or future problems, very often our "place to go" when lacking activity. Instead, awe increases our reserve of positive emotions alongside feelings of gratitude, joy, love, pride, hope, inspiration.

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