The power of awe in the everyday

Photo: Maine, 2018

A good friend of mine (who is also a clinical psychologist) lives in Maine and has recently enrolled her daughter in a year-round outdoor elementary school. The vast power of the outdoors, everyday, as an education.

We use the word awesome lightly. From a psychological standpoint, awe is an emotional response when coming across exceptionally vast stimuli and events that exceed one’s usual range of reference in some area and surpass one’s existing knowledge. Awe is a positive, prosocial, self-transcendent emotion strongly associated with a sense of reward, self-awareness, time perception, life satisfaction, and humility.

From the neuropsychology research awe-fueled experiences might:

  • Boost your mood.
  • Decrease materialism.
  • Increase humility and life satisfaction.
  • Aid in developing critical thinking skills.
  • Offer a greater sense of timelessness.
  • Improve health (such as lessening chronic inflammation).

In a recent study, researchers asked participants to walk outdoors, 15 minutes a day for eight weeks. The participants were told they had enrolled in an exercise study, but some were given instructions designed to engender awe; acts like observing natural details while walking in a forest. The participants who took these “awe walks” reported greater joy and displayed more intense smiles in their end-of-walk selfies and journal entries.

Awe appears to give our brain the startle that it needs for stimulation and soothing, simultaneously.

Also see: Awe might be our most undervalued emotion. Here’s how to help children find it.

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