Everyone can itemize just how these times are awful: rising number of COVID-19 cases, over 130,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, job losses, businesses closing, social unrest, fear and anxiety, depression, anger and violence… the list goes on.
Awful to be sure. Dwelling on all this overwhelming awfulness results in deepening the emotional burdens of negativity but I found some good news in a research abstract published by the Association for Psychological Sciences.
In three very different experiments, the researchers discovered that finding moments of awe (amazement and wonder) expanded people’s feelings of well-being, altered decision making in positive ways, and reduced the stress of feeling compressed by time. The more awe moments participants experienced; life felt more satisfying that it had been otherwise.
The experience of awe leaves one feeling humbled, interconnected with others, and everyday concerns feel less overwhelming. Plus, people who experience awe show lower tissue levels of an inflammatory cytokine associated with the risk of heart disease.
Consider these practices that can bring awe into your life:
Become a student of nature, watching for all the moments that remind you of the complexity, beauty, and abundance of the natural world. For example, right now, dozens of monarch butterflies are twirling above my head. The females have already placed eggs on the milkweed plants which the caterpillars will devour. In due time, the caterpillar will be turning upside down, splitting its skin, nestling inside the chrysalis to form wings, thorax, antennae and then emerge. Over the years, I’ve managed to video tape each stage of this incredible metamorphosis. It is AWESOME and humbling.
Keep an AWE journal. There’s magic indeed in even recalling a moment of awe and bringing it to life on a page. Remember when you held your child for the first time? Or how about watching a comet blaze across the sky? Perhaps it was standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or looking up at the moon rising over the High Sierras. My latest moment of awe was having a little 3 year-old run, grab my legs, and hug them enthusiastically. She was stark naked too! Her innocence in that gesture touched my heart—particularly when her mom said that Olivia didn’t do that often to others!
Take an AWE walk. Between computers and cellphones, the world of technology surrounds us with noise, demands, social media posts, and press bulletins which speed across our eyes. Leave all that behind and get out. Even if you think there’s not much to see in your neighborhood, pretend you are from outer space. See what catches your eye, perhaps pulls you into a reverie, or offers a familiar sight that is suddenly changed. Perhaps a flower growing in the sidewalk crack? The elderly woman who is walking slowly without her portable oxygen? (I saw her today, shouted a “good to see you out” and gave her two thumbs up. The smile she offered just made my heart happy.)
Watch an awe-inspiring video. We’re into watching—for the third time—the National Geographic film on the courtship of birds. I also play the video we took when in San Ignacio Lagoon in the Baja with the birthing gray whales. There’s nothing more awe-inspiring than being able to bend over and kiss the head of a 40-ton California Grey whale.
It is said that we should not count the number of breaths in our life but rather the number of times something took our breath away. Try any of these and watch how—even for a short period—you are surrounded by present moment awareness and grateful.