New Year’s: Pause For Thought

The New Year is always a time for pause and assessment, and generally thinkin’ ‘bout things.  So let’s take a few moments to ruminate on Awe.

Sensei Cat Johnson pointed to a piece from Greater Good Magazine, “Eight Reasons Why Awe Makes Your Life Better” [1] .

As the title indicates, Summer Allen goes through a list of research findings about psychological and social benefits of experiencing “awe” – “the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world”.  This emotion may be triggered by a variety of natural settings or dramatic events, though I would say that the key is that it is triggered by things outside of yourself:  out of your own control and heedless of your existence.  In short, bigger than you.

1. Awe may improve your mood and make you more satisfied with your life

2. Awe may be good for your health

3. Awe may help you think more critically

4. Awe may decrease materialism

5. Awe makes you feel smaller and more humble

6. Awe can make you feel like you have more time

7. Awe can make you more generous and cooperative

8. Awe can make you feel more connected to other people and humanity (From [1])

For my money, the heart of the matter is #5, “Awe makes you feel smaller and more humble”.  This is practically the definition of what “awe” feels like, and IMO the other suggested benefits all flow from it.

The universe is huge, and there are huge things in it.  You aren’t huge. It’s probably a good idea to realize that you really are tiny to the point of insignificance.

This realization has useful corollaries. When you feel properly humble, your problems and desires are, by definition, humble ones.  “Awe may decrease materialism” (#4), “Awe may […] make you more satisfied with your life” (#1), “Awe can make you more generous and cooperative” (#7) and so on.

Allen calls “awe research” (!)  a “15-year old science”, though honestly people have known the pleasures and benefits of humbleness for as long as we have records. People have always been struck by awesome experiences, natural and artificial (e.g., see religious and mystical practices).  Still, it is good to see some careful studies that examine and validate these intuitions.

It is important to note that experiencing “awe” isn’t just about encountering something special or outstanding. Lot’s of things—pretty much anything—can be “awesome” if you receive it that way.  There are many famous anecdotes about a transcendent experience triggered by some tiny, everyday perception.

My own suspicion is that half the story is being emotionally prepared to “let it be awesome”.

I’ll add that a great multiplier for “awe” is gratitude. <<link>>  Organizing and expressing thoughts of gratitude may well create feelings of, well, awe, or at least have the same effect.

I think that when you express gratitude something good in your life, you recognize that you aren’t the center of the universe.  Furthermore, the good things you have or witness are gifts, not payment for services. That is, well, awesome.

Let me wish everyone a happy New Year.

And let’s all take time to both express gratitude and experience awe.  We’ll all be better for it, and happier, too.

  1. Summer Allen, Eight Reasons Why Awe Makes Your Life Better, in Greater Good Magazine. 2018.


PS.  The first idea for Band Name for 2019:

Awe Research

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