Experiencing Awe (a review of the book Awestruck by Jonah Paquette)
Blog by Dr. Bev Snyder
Ecclesiastes 5:7: “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore, stand in awe of God.”
When is the last time that you felt a sense of awe that transports you from ordinary to transcendent? Perhaps it was when you held a newborn child, or watched a magnificent sunset or enjoyed the sunlight glancing off tranquil water. The feeling is often complete with goosebumps or a tingle down your spine. It’s the feeling we get in those moments of life that are so powerful, so vast, or so moving that we can’t fully wrap our minds around it. Yet it is this emotion that holds an important key to a fulfilling, meaningful, and happy life.
The Biblical reference above suggests we stand in awe of God for there is no greater source than our creator! He sets the standard for awe in all his glorious might. Just like being in awe of God, we can experience those moments that challenge our assumptions, expands our minds and forces us to accommodate this new information. So how does awe transform us? Reflect on where you were and what you were doing when you experienced awe – how did it feel emotionally, physically, even mentally? It turns out that this emotion has powerful effects on many aspects of our lives.
On a psychological level, experiences of awe improve our mood, increase life satisfaction and reduce stress. It also strengthens our social bonds, increases compassion and altruism towards others, and makes us more curious about the world around us. Most notably, experiencing a sense of awe has been shown to have powerful effects on the body’s inflammatory system. In fact, some research has shown it is the most potent anti-inflammatory emotion of all. It can reduce anxious rumination, self-judgment and worry. It can go further and increase feelings of safety, connection and belonging. So how can we experience more of this emotion? Author Jonah Paquette makes the following suggestions:
Awe in this moment. Notice the small things, even in your immediate environment, that would be mind-blowing to someone from 50 to 500 years ago. See these sources of marvel and wonder and turn the mundane into something profound.
Connect to nature. Find small ways to connect with the natural world – whether taking a stroll in the park, noticing the shapes of clouds, or pausing to savor a powerful rainstorm.
Appreciate the good. Gratitude and awe are closely related emotions, and when we pause to appreciate the things that are right and good rather than all that’s wrong, it can overwhelm us with a feeling of wonder.
Recognize our smallness. Step back and reflect on the vastness around you – from the sheer number of people living in the world to the stars in the night sky above. Connecting to things on this level humbles us, yet binds us to something bigger than ourselves.
The unlikelihood of existence. Think of all the factors that had to align simply perfect for us to even exist in this moment, and how unlikely our very existence is.
Relive moments of awe. When we think about an experience, our body and brains respond quite similarly to when we actually had the experience. So find ways to replay, relive and use the power of imagination to reconnect to past experiences of awe and wonder. Even reviewing photos on your phone can recall incredible sights in nature that you have captured forever.
Foster admiration. Thinking about people we admire, whether well-known or on a more personal level, can evoke a sense of wonder and awe within us. We all have known someone whose presence and behavior invoked inspiration and respect in us and pushed us to be more like them.
Embrace the arts. We can find awe through the arts in all forms – from gazing at a beautiful sculpture to watching an incredible performance. My granddaughter draws amazing sketches of anime figures that I couldn’t begin to duplicate – it is an awesome thing that she can do!
Expand your mind. Learn about topics and ideas that challenge the way you think, or deepen your understanding of the world or universe.
It is astounding to discover just how profound, meaningful and even life-changing these moments in life can be. While there are no panaceas when it comes to changing our lives, its remarkable how awe holds promise for many of the ills we find ourselves facing in 2022. In a time of record-breaking stress, depression and loneliness, awe has been shown to boost our mood, lower our stress, strengthen our social bonds, and even improve our health. Awe can reorient us to part of life that matter most – by remembering that awe comes from our awesome God who was the originator of it all! Try activating it in your life and see what happens!