With the ability to leave us speechless, cause goosebumps on the back of our neck, and momentarily transport us to another realm – the nature of Awe is powerful.

Awe may well be described as one of the most profound human experiences, yet scientific study into this emotion has only emerged since the early 2000s. Although its roots are entwined in early history, mythology and religion – Awe is relatively new to the study of psychology and neuroscience.

“Awe is defined as the emotion we feel in response to something vast that defies our existing frame of reference in one area or another and leads us to change our perception of that frame of reference” – Jennifer Stellar

When experiencing Awe, there is said to be a need for accommodation. We are challenged to create a connection with something that is not yet integrated into our understanding of the world. From this, we see that Awe is associated with novelty and encouraged by curiosity.

Take, for example, the intrigue of a super moon, a shooting star or a powerful electrical storm – to begin with, these are aspects of our environment that we don’t quite understand or that we haven’t managed to attach meaning to yet. Often moments of Awe can be found in nature. We may also experience Awe listening to music, witnessing an unexpected act of kindness or watching another person reach their full potential. Awe is felt in varying intensities and is unique to each individual.

Associated with an appreciation of beauty, gratitude for our surroundings and open-mindedness, Awe also requires an acceptance of ambiguity and acknowledgement of the unknown. Awe is a multi-faceted emotional response, invoking feelings of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder.

 “Awe is a feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world “- Dachner Keltner

 Awe is set apart from other emotions, such as admiration or surprise, by a sense of self-diminishment. This defining feature of Awe makes us feel small or part of something greater than ourselves. The research shows that this weakened sense of self – importance can be beneficial.

The notion that we are part of something limitless can lead to increased compassion, generosity, and humility. The relationship between Awe and wellbeing has been documented in a range of studies. A growing body of research shows that Awe can play an essential role in our happiness, health, and social interactions.

When we are in the presence of something vast and feel awestruck, we, in turn, become humbled. This more modest version of self leads the individual to an increased sense of social belonging. An increased connectedness to others enables us to act in more collaborative ways toward the social collective. With enhanced generosity, kindness, and humility, we can form more vital groups and communities. From an evolutionary perspective, this would improve our odds for survival as a species and explain why Awe became part of our emotional inventory.

When researcher Jennifer Stellar recently looked at the relationship between the cytokine system and various positive emotions, she found that only Awe reduced levels of cytokines to a significant degree. It would seem that regular doses of Awe can do wonders for our physical and emotional health.

 “Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways” – Jonathan Haidt

Perhaps we should all take the time to truly notice the happenings around us which we do not fully understand. If the daily presence of wonder encourages us to be happier, less egotistical versions of ourselves – Let us all be in Awe of this powerful and transformational emotion.

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