Lately, as I've been going for a walk or driving around I've been feeling awe at the beauty of nature, the vibrant green grass, the blooming spring flowers, the budding trees. It's pretty easy out in nature to feel awe if you are aware and noticing it, or actively practicing awe.
You might be thinking, "What do you mean actively practicing awe? Is this a thing?" The answer is yes, it is a thing! A lot of new research is coming out on the power of awe and the intentional practice of cultivating the feeling.
The feeling of awe is good for your health and helps us to revise our mental models of what's possible in the world. A new UC Berkeley study reveals that awe can even improve physical and mental health, possibly even lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, clinical depression, heart disease, and arthritis ... benefits similar to those enjoyed by eating right and exercising. As Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner puts it, “Don’t underestimate the power of goosebumps.”
This most recent research out of UC Berkeley links positive emotions...especially the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art, and spirituality...with lower levels of pro-inflammatory proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.
And the good news is that you can promote your health with an awe experience as simple as watching a sunset, or even looking at a picture of an awe-inspiring sunset. As Dr. Dacher Keltner put it, "That awe, wonder, and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions...a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art...has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy."
Awe can be found in almost any environment, turning a mundane or ordinary experience into one of inspiration, wonder and awe. We're more likely to feel awe in a new place, where the sights and sounds are unfamiliar to us.
The key to feeling awe is to be in the right frame of mind, then you can turn an ordinary walk into a series of awe-inspiring moments, filled with awesome surprises. The practice of awe is easy and can be done anywhere, anytime.
During your next walk, try to approach what you see with a fresh set of eyes, even if you are walking in the city versus out in a natural landscape. Look for the beauty, look for the awe-inspiring sights. You might find it in a skyscraper, some amazing architectural work, a beautiful art piece, a beam of sunlight dancing through a window, a gesture of another person, the giggle of a young child. The possibilities are endless!
I invite and encourage you to practice awe by building into your day mini awe interventions!