Share Pin Email
feature image
Live Free

How to Find Awe in the Ordinary

Science shows taking time to appreciate the awesomeness of life can improve feelings of life satisfaction, generosity, empathy, and fulfillment.

Author Image
Contributing Writer

As we pulled away from the Masai terrain in Kenya, the driver smiled at us in the rearview mirror and signaled us to turn around. Golden beams of light reached down through the clouds, grazing the earth around us. It was like no sunset any of us had ever experienced: We were not simply observers; we were part of something absolutely phenomenal. My lifelong view of sun and Earth as separate was challenged in that instant, and has since never been the same.

What exactly is “awe?” According to researchers Dacher Keltner of University of California Berkeley and Jonathan Haidt of New York University, awe is an emotion teetering “on the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear,” inspiring a feeling of inexplicable greatness and challenging individual perspective. In one study, participants distinguished between 13 emotions including awe, contentment, and joy. Awe was determined to be an overall positive emotion typically resulting from external occurrences or objects rather than an internal thought.

Many of us may have had moments where words escape us and our paradigm shifts in the face of what we’re experiencing. Today, research finds that these kinds of “awesome” experiences make for more than just great stories. Feeling emotionally moved may inspire psychological well-being for the individual as well as for greater humanity.

Awe-igniting moments may soften effects of stress by reducing one’s awareness of time. In two experiments by Melanie Rudd, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business, participants who experienced more awe as compared to other emotions generally felt an abundance of time as well as a stronger sense of life satisfaction. She suggests that an awesome experience brings the individual into the present moment, thereby shifting their subjective perception of time and removing future-related worry.

Additionally, research has linked awe to improved interpersonal behaviors such as helpfulness, generosity, and empathy toward one another. In a series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, participants who reported frequently noticing beauty in nature were also typically more open-minded and empathic toward others. In this same medley of research, exposure to beautiful images of nature and plants was associated with participants behaving more generously and helpfully towards others, respectively. The implication is that finding small experiences of “awe” in easily accessible nature may lead to greater appreciation of humanity, and thereby stronger interconnectedness with others.

Awe is the feeling chased by skydivers, rock climbers, scuba divers, art-gazers, storm-chasers, and scientists. But when we’re busy with work, family or are concerned with an important problem, it’s not always possible to drop our tasks and hike to mountain peak in the Amazon in search of awe. While the exhilarating emotion is more commonly associated with extreme sports and travel, it’s certainly not a prerequisite. How can we find awe and benefit from it in the everyday?

The simplest approach is to notice beauty in “common” things. When feeling claustrophobic in our own problems, we often fall victim to believing our world hinges on that typo we made in our letter or we might be prematurely convinced that delay in email response translates to rejection. A 2004 study noted modest correlations of “appreciation of beauty” as a character strength and life satisfaction. Next time you find yourself ruminating on a problem, see if you can notice beauty in what lies outside of you in your environment: how the snow melts into rounded puddles and how green shrubs reveal that they’ve persevered through winter, or how a glowing crescent moon is still the same sphere as a full moon but just partially covered in shadow. By noticing thematic beauty in everyday occurrences we might generally take for granted, we can step out of our minds and our immediate worries and remember that we are part of vast, beautiful picture.



Comments (0)

An Expert Guide to Crow Pose

Download Sonima’s comprehensive guide to this exciting “reach” posture and enjoy the benefits of expert instruction at home!

Get the Guide

Load More

Find us on Instagram

  • Looking for a quick at-home workout? Try "The Tens" from Stacey Pierce-Talsma, DO, RYT: Start with 10 burpees, 10 pushups, 10 sit-ups, 10 lunges, and 10 squats. Then you do nine of everything, then eight, then seven, all the way down to one. "I like to time myself and see if I can get it done in record time. I enjoy this workout because it usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes, yet I’ve totally gotten a good workout in and strengthened most major muscle groups of my body," she says.

#homeworkouts #WorkoutFromHome #fitness #exerciseroutine
  • During times of uncertainty, it can be a struggle to find time for self-care. But a few minutes of quiet can do so much for your well-being. In our guided meditation, Deepak Chopra, M.D., invites you to take a few moments of mindful attention so you can center yourself and make space in your mind to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Click the link in our bio. 
#meditation #selfcare #mindfulness
  • Many yogis chose to decorate their bodies with intellectual and emotional reminders of the practice. The symbology of the yogic tradition from chakras to Sanskrit letters has been paired with universal symbols of love, life, breath, and oneness to create a yoga-tattoo canon of sorts. The symbology has been overturned and reinterpreted over time, so that the scope of a “yoga tattoo” has actually become quite wide. Here we present a collection of body art, which honors the diversity of the many yoga lineages and the masterful and artful creativity of the modern yogi:

Check out the link and then tell us: Do you have any yoga tattoos?

#yoga #tattoos #bodyart #yogaart #bodyink
  • Start your day with this empowering mantra. "It sets the tone for the morning and can help me come back to my truest self and feel like I can take on anything," says @sophie.jaffe. 
What's your favorite mantra to kickstart the week? Tell us below!

#mantra #mondaymantra #quotes
  • Have you ever noticed that spas tend to smell of flowers such as lavender and ylang ylang? Studies show that these scents increase calmness, which is right for that setting. If you were to look for an essential oil that had the opposite effect—one that made you more energized and alert—choose peppermint. This distinct odor has the opposite effect of soothing essential oils, although it’s still a pleasant scent. Peppermint can even enhance your memory. #energyboost #boostenergy #essentialoils #memorybooster #naturalhealth #naturalremedies
  • If you find it hard to concentrate, try this practice from @alive.awake.empowered at least once a day: Count breathing cycles. Inhale, exhale, one. Inhale, exhale, two. Inhale, exhale, three. And so on.

You may be able to get only as far as two or three at first. But with practice, you will improve, and so will your ability to concentrate. Do what you can, and when a thought interrupts, go back to one.

#meditation #concentration #focus #mondays
Receive fresh content delivered to your inbox every week!