We are all searching for greater happiness, right? I think most people can agree that one of the biggest blocks to happiness is getting caught up in the cycle of worry that is an almost-unavoidable part of daily life. There’s always something to fret about: the cat is sick, the boss might deny my raise request, the person I’m dating might stop returning my calls. It can feel suffocating to constantly be worrying about all the little things in life.
STOP AND SMELL THE COSMOS
Recent research shows that we can break up the cycle of worry and feel much happier by experiencing awe. What’s awe? Good question. Awe is the state of reverential wonder while experiencing something much greater than yourself. It’s that “...whoa” moment when you gaze at the vastness of the ocean or the infinite blanket of stars. As you may have suspected, it is also the root of awesome.
By definition, awe takes us out of our spinning internal monologue of worries and places us in a state of enchantment. When you experience awe (or marvel, as it is also called) you will likely notice that you “feel so alive!” and you are more able to be surprised by beauty in your everyday life. Recent research shows that experiencing awe can also make us more generous and less selfish. Most researchers think that this happens because we are able to turn our focus away from ourselves and out to the rest of the world when we are overcome by awe. Awe also has the awesome ability to remind us that, in the grand scheme of the universe, our concerns are usually temporary and small.
It’s okay to be self-obsessed. We need to be focused on ourselves in order to survive and get our needs met. However, when you notice that your self-concern is getting out of hand, awe can help you feel more grateful, less cynical, less materialistic, and more connected to the world.
“So, how do I actually cultivate awe?,” you may be wondering. There are many activities that don’t take much time or effort to change your mindset for the better.
Experiencing a new culture or incredible place that you’ve never seen before is a surefire way to summon awe.
- Go somewhere high up where you can see for miles
- Take in a place with no light pollution and be amazed by the vastness of outer space
- Visit the ocean
- Experience a completely different climate where organisms function differently from how you are used to like a rainforest or desert
- Learn a new culture and absorb the uniqueness of the language and customs
Seek out Art and Science
Research shows that just watching videos, looking at photographs, or reading is enough to improve mood and concentration. Consider making an “awe” folder on your computer’s desktop and fill it with astonishing things. If the effect of those things wears off, empty the folder, and go on a hunt for new items.
- Listen to Beethoven, Jimi Hendrix, or any virtuoso
- Research DNA and mapping the genome
- Watch a video about human development from conception to birth
- Read a poem by Shakespeare
- Watch someone paint a hyper-realistic mural
- Chose a scientific concept that you know nothing about and read a few articles on it (and prepare to be amazed)
Revel in Nature
Nature never ceases to be astonishing. You can cultivate awe in the beautiful and the destructive. Watching a video of a tidal wave will have the same perspective-shifting effect as seeing a stunning sunrise.
- Watch a video of a tornado, hurricane, or tidal wave in action
- Read about how great white sharks can propel themselves out of the water and into the air
- Look at photos of far flung environments
- Go outside and watch the sunset
- Sit under a large tree and contemplate how long it has been alive
- Consider the vastness of time and space
- Learn about creatures that inhabit the depths of the ocean and how differently they function
Find Beauty in the Everyday
Seek out wonder, beauty, and amazement in your daily life. We don’t need to go far to find things that are incredible.
- Marvel at the fact that, despite all the illnesses and accidents out there, everyone you see has survived to this moment
- Notice the wonder of children
- Find empathy and care in small acts that people do for each other
- Be amazed by the technological advances all around you
- Talk to (or read about) someone who is very old and appreciate all that they have lived through and how the world has changed in their lifetime