What Is the Benefit of Feeling AWE?

by Karyn Mandan

“Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.”

Dacher Keltner, founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has conducted studies on what awe is and what effect it has in daily life. While people might assume that a sense of awe is reserved only for the majestic, the studies of individual descriptions indicate that awe can be experienced in small and simple everyday events.

“My research has led me to believe that one simple prescription can have transformative effects: look for more daily experiences of awe… What the science of awe suggests is that opportunities for awe surround us, and their benefits are profound.”

He goes on to explain the effects of such feeling and why we would want to fill our lives with it: “Awe—more so than emotions like pride or amusement—leads people to cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice for others, all of which are requirements for our collective life. …being in the presence of vast things calls forth a more modest, less narcissistic self, which enables greater kindness toward others. … Brief experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective and orient our actions toward the interests of others.”

Shortly after returning from a weekend trip to the Sierras, where I hiked in a vast granite wilderness and witnessed a spectacular sunrise reflected in a lake, I was still feeling inspired by the expansive beauty that surrounded me. At the same time, I was thinking about how I could be more outward- and giving-focused to others. How might I be that way on a consistent, planned basis?

And that’s when I happened upon the meaning and impact of awe (to read the article go here). It definitely resonated with me. Keltner’s research gave me a new perspective on the planning I felt nudged to do. Rather than just being grateful for the beauty and grandeur I’d experienced, or seeing it as an isolated event, I could draw on the inspiration and strength gained to help me forge a direction that is less focused on “me” and more oriented to responding to the needs of others.

Encouraging everyone to experience the wonder of awe, Keltner concludes, “Take the time to pause and open your mind to those things which you do not fully understand. You will be the better for it—and, as your feelings of awe ripple out through acts of kindness, so will the rest of us.”

Leave a Reply