There is a healing power in nature. For a number of years, research has suggested that green spaces are good for you. But you know that! You feel that! Nature is good for your health, your wellbeing and even your relationships. A recent study suggests that the secret ingredient responsible for these benefits is a feeling of awe – a sense of wonder. Awe is a very unique emotion that is a response to things that are perceptually vast. Things you don’t fully understand; something that blows your mind.
Those of us who are fortunate to live in California know the experience of awe. I experience it often as I go about my day-to-day life. We are surrounded by the absolute awesomeness of nature. Our recent winter brought an abundance of rain which turned the fire-ravaged hills into lush green yumminess. And now the spring superbloom of wildflowers has overwhelmed the senses. We have a choice as to where we can experience the magnificence. Desert? Mountains? Ocean? Forest? It’s all here for us! No matter where you live on this beautiful planet, you can find a place that inspires awe.
Why would experiencing awe have positive effects on you? Researchers don’t know for sure, but it could be that awe may benefit well-being by inducing a “small self”. When you sense that you are in the presence of something bigger than you, it can make worries or cares feel less significant. When you feel smaller, everyday concerns feel smaller too. When you experience awe-inspiring places, you feel a connection to Spirit and your place in the Universe. You are not alone.
Awe may also make people be more humble. When study participants were induced to feel awe, it led them to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses in a more balanced way. It also helped them to better recognize how outside forces contributed to their successes. Awe can help you to know and feel that you are supported.
Studies also show that those who spent time in nature by taking a hike or spending time in the park during the day felt more satisfied with life. Experiences of awe predicted that boost more than any other positive emotion. You don’t have to take a trip to the Grand Canyon to experience awe. Just watching videos of awesome places can improve your mood and wellbeing. Even reading an awe-evoking story can produce the emotion.
Awe may be good for your health. It was found that people who reported feeling more “awe, wonder and amazement” showed lower tissue levels of interleukin-6, a pro-inflammatory cytokine associated with heart disease risk. Your body responds well to the positive emotions.
Awe may also expand your perception of time. It was found that people induced to feel awe felt less impatient and agreed more strongly with statements suggesting that time is plentiful and expansive. It’s been speculated that by immersing yourself in the moment, awe allows you to savor that now moment; to be present. It changes your perception of available time. Time stops when you experience awe.
These studies suggest that experiencing awe may make people more kind, cooperative and generous. Awe may prompt you to help others because it encourages you to focus less on yourself. It has an amazing capacity to help you to feel more connected to the people in your life and to all of humanity, because it increases your sense that you are a part of something bigger than yourself.
Remember that the mind doesn’t know the difference between what you imagine and what you perceive to be reality. When you recall awe-inspiring moments, your body responds to the memories and the emotions that are evoked. You get some of the same benefits as you did during the original experience. If you want to be more present, more humble, more balanced, more healthy, all you need to do is slow down and make space for a little awe in your life!
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