awe-300x200One of the themes at my leadership retreat last week was the power of awe. From the moment we arrived at the campus in Wisconsin, we were called upon to seek out awe-inspiring experiences.

The first day, I saw a dragonfly caught in a spider’s web. I heard frogs that sounded like an orchestra. I saw fireflies that looked like sparklers. All of these were moments of awe.

During one classroom section out on the grass, a green bug landed on me and I spent many minutes watching its movements. I was fascinated by how it shifted from side to side, bending its legs as it leaned to the left, then straightening and bending them again as it leaned to the right. Why would a bug do such a thing? I was captivated. Every time the bug jumped off my leg I would catch it again so I could watch its do this dance.

In each of these moments, time stood still. I felt like I could sit there forever focusing on this one thing – a green bug, a sunset, a frog chorus. I was happy to be alive, for the simple fact that life occurred to me as captivating and miraculous.

What I learned over the week is that scientific research supports my experience of awe. Specifically there are four documented effects of awe that make me want to pursue it more often!

5 Major Benefits of Awe

  1. We become more generous and caring after experiencing awe!
    In a study directed by Paul Piff, half the participants were directed to look at the side of a building, and the other half were directed to look at a grove of towering eucalyptus trees. After they looked at the scene, a researcher walked by the participants and dropped a box of pens by “accident.” The ones who had looked at the trees picked up more of the pens, exhibiting much more ethical and social behavior than the ones who looked at a building. Imagine the world we would live in if more people experienced awe on a regular basis!
  1. Awe inspires creativity.
    When a group of children looked at a series of photos, one beginning with objects like a pencil, and progressing to vast things like the Milky Way, they were more creative than another group starting with vast things and moving to more everyday things. This 2012 study from Tel Aviv University encourages me to look at an awe-inspiring video or photo before attempting any creative pursuit!
  1. Awe produces health benefits.
    A January 2015 study in the journal Emotion found that awe, especially when induced by a deep connection to art, nature, or spirituality, lowers cytokines in the body. Lower cytokines means less risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and depression. Furthermore, if awe is inspired by a physical experience in nature, we get more vitamin D and also benefits related to exercise.
  1. Awe expands our sense of time.
    Researchers at Stanford and the University of Minnesota found that when people experience awe, they report that they have more time available and are less impatient. Awe brings people into the present moment—and the sense of having more time can lead to better sleep, less stress, less engaging in addictions, more motivation to acquire new knowledge, more willingness to volunteer, and overall, more life satisfaction.
  1. Awe gives you a better sense of well-being.
    Awe-inspiring experiences such as looking at a natural wonder, listening to a beautiful symphony, or even looking into another person’s eyes, can make us feel a connection with something greater. This experience is an emotion “in the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear” as described by psychologists Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley and Jonathan Haidt of New York University. Who wouldn’t want that?

When was the last time you experienced awe? Are there awe-inspiring opportunities passing you by on a daily basis? I challenge you this week to have 10 awe-inspiring moments every day. I’d love to hear the difference it makes in your life!

Leave a Reply