If I could go back in time, I would ask the Beatles to rename their iconic song, “All we need is Love” changing it to “All we need is Awe.” Don’t get me wrong, love is certainly important, but awe is the source responsible for those things that make us feel truly alive: connection, happiness, fulfilment and purpose.
It’s the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world – something that amazes, inspires and moves us.
“A combination of dread, veneration, and wonder that makes us feel we belong to a much greater intelligence“, explains Kirk Schneider, PhD, author of ‘Rediscovery of Awe‘. “Something that reminds us of the insignificance of our worries amidst the mystery and sacredness around us. It motivates us to take altruistic action and leave something of ourselves behind in the world. If one thing is certain, it’s that awe keeps our egos in check“.
What does a sense of awe bring into our lives?
Life serves up a new set of challenges, changes and a mother lode of uncertainty around the future of our health, our finances, careers and relationships, especially when over 50. Only by slowing down, pausing, being present and observing the world around us we can experience more awe-inspiring moments in our life.
We think of awe as an emotion reserved for the most extraordinary moments – summiting a mountain, the birth of a child, or an exquisite live performance. But actually, it’s something we can appreciate every day -—whether through engaging with nature or enjoying great art or music.
“One of the biggest things we can do to benefit ourselves when it comes to awe,” says Jonah Paquette, psychologist and author of ‘Awestruck: How Embracing Wonder Can Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Connected‘, “is noticing the small stuff. You know, looking up at a sunset, watching the changing colours of the leaves or the passing of a season or watching it rain — these things that we essentially take for granted can actually be sources of wonder.”
What we often forget is that seeking out and incorporating those little moments of awe into our daily life can also boost our overall well-being.
Benefits of experiencing awe
Though awe has been relatively ignored by scientists until just twenty years ago – perhaps because of its traditional association with religion – studies show that the benefits of getting doses of awe can have extremely positive effects on our mental and physical health and ultimately our happiness.
That’s because it focuses on transcending the ordinary occurrences of daily life.
Experiencing a sense of wonderment can also be a great stress reducer, according to Science Daily. What’s more, recent scientific studies conducted by the U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center’s Dacher Keltner show that the experience of awe is our superpower as human beings. Our capacity to revere things and treat things as sacred makes awe our signature strength.
Intentionally seeking the feeling of awe can improve memory, boost creativity and relieve anxious rumination, reduce inflammation in our body. By activating dopamine in our system, triggering curiosity and exploration, awe reminds us of the simple miracle of being alive, providing us with an emotional foundation for a sense of purpose in life.
How can we get more awe in midlife?
Awe is something pivotal in midlife. It can be life-changing, one of the “gifts” we need to unwrap for a fulfilling “third act”, something that can help us push aside fear and persist despite life’s uncertainty as we grow older, an antidote to fear and can inspire us to take leaps of faith, following our hearts instead of holding ourselves back.
Here are 6 inspiring ways to help you experience it on a frequent basis and maybe help you “see the wood for the trees.”
1. Take a daily “Awe-Walk”
Being in nature and viewing its wonders calms our nervous systems and fills us with positive emotions. Awesome experiences, however, can be found anywhere, with the right point of view. You don’t have to live in a glorious countryside full of vast awe-inspiring views or travel to remote parts of the globe to witness natural wonders like the Northern Lights.
A novel experience, a “wow!” moment or an encounter with physical vastness are likely places you’ll find awe. Just look. You may find it in the way the sunlight streams through the tops of the trees, the sapling that is growing through the asphalt in a parking lot, hearing a gifted violinist in the subway station or witnessing kindnesses between strangers.
2. Experience art
Art in all of its forms is “awe-inspiring.” Go to a museum or art gallery, book a ticket to hear a live musical performance or create art yourself. Hearing one of your favourite songs can instantly impact your mood. Music stimulates parts of our brains that can arouse and regulate our emotions and memory.
3. Pay attention. Slow down. Unplug. Linger
Give yourself time to just “be.” Awe can come out of even the most basic activities and daily chores. While you are weeding your garden, slow down and look deep into the faces of the flowers. While you’re cooking, think about how the spices you are using were sourced, how beautiful their colours are and how exquisite they smell. And, when you experience something that is extraordinary and you feel awe, don’t rush to take a picture. Linger and let the feeling of awe soak in.
4. Focus outward, not inward
Do something for someone else. Volunteer for a cause close to your heart, reach out to help someone in your community who is struggling and lonely, or adopt a dog from the shelter. The possibilities are endless. Not only does doing good make you feel good, shifting from thinking about yourself, your small self, to something more vast and collective you will feel a more deep connection to others and the world.
5. Spend time with children
Seeing life through the eyes of a child gives you a fresh perspective that is much purer. Everything is new to little ones and you can capture that same excitement just by being with them.
6. Close your eyes and remember
Our memory is a powerful and useful tool. You can “relive” times in your life when you were awestruck to bring back the same positive feelings you had.
You can feel your jaw drop and perhaps even let out an “ahhh!” and usually it doesn’t cost a penny.