3 Ways to Experience More Awe in Your Life

How to cultivate the magical feeling of awe in your everyday life.

Apr 27, 2016

Tags:

Awe, Happify, Solitude
A woman looking in awe at a beautiful sunset

Awe keeps our egos in check (Drop Zone Drone / Shutterstock.com)

When you think of awe, what comes to mind? Is it that irrational and delusional overreaction that we all recognize and yet struggle with? Or is it something more magical, amazing, almost divine?

Fear has many expressions, and some languages have multiple words for it. In Hebrew for example, pachad is the fear of imagined things, the one that considers a first date to be a life-threatening event. But then there’s also yirah, the fear that descends on us when we’re about to touch something larger than ourselves.

Yirah doesn’t close us down the way pachad does. In fact, it opens us up, mentally, physically, even spiritually. We feel connected to something deeply authentic, whether it’s nature or humanity. We feel moved to do something. We feel awed.

This feeling is as fearful as it is amazing. Kirk Schneider, Ph.D., author of Rediscovery of Awe, says “Awe is the commingling of dread, veneration, and wonder.” It makes us feel we belong to a much greater intelligence. It reminds us of the insignificance of our worries amidst the mystery and sacredness around us. It motivates us to take altruistic action and leave something of ourselves behind in the world. If one thing is certain, it’s that awe keeps our egos in check.

This has positive effects on our emotions. In his book, Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion, Paul Pearsall writes about the role of awe in helping us move through sadness with gratitude and acceptance. Many of our negative feelings, such as loneliness and rejection, are best overcome by moving beyond our infatuation with our own happiness, and finding it in giving ourselves fully to others and the world.

So how can we cultivate this magical feeling?

1. OPEN UP TO THE WORLD

The human body is unique in the energy it consumes in relation to its size — and we’re not talking about greed! The brain is an energy hog — for just about four percent of body weight, it uses up to 20% of our energy. To be efficient, it tries shortcuts. One such shortcut is what psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “fast thinking”—the automatic and subconscious neural system that bypasses the slower and more deliberate conscious one. Although it's great in times of crisis, it can be totally disconnected with reality given that it relies on building coherence with our existing mental frameworks. Exposing ourselves to different people, cultures and viewpoints opens us up to the richness of our lives where we’re able to hold multiple and complex frameworks and cherish the awesomeness of life.

2. APPRECIATE THE PASSAGE OF TIME

Just as embracing everything around us broadens our perspective, appreciating the passage of time lengthens it. It allows us to see the world from the long lens of perspective and become aware of our place in a large continuation filled with mystery and wonder. Nature is one of the best ways to achieve this—spending time outdoors, watching the sunset or the sunrise, observing flowers that bloom and die, or the seasons that come and go—all of this make us witness to a vast flow of continual rebirth.

Volunteering at places that serve others, such as hospice centers, animal shelters, or nursing homes is another way of reminding ourselves that life is a temporary gift. And visiting museums and art galleries call our attention to the genius of the human spirit and the civilizations that once were.

3. CULTIVATE SOLITUDE

Our overly busy and technologically dependent lives go against the cultivation of awe. It takes the fullness of presence, the ability to pause and reflect on emotions and sensations, and the willingness to savor the many shades of the moment to allow us to develop a new ethical and moral identity. This is easier done with some sort of mindfulness or meditative practice — it allows us to befriend ourselves, make room for self-reflection, and begin to notice the environment around us.

But awe is more than a practice—it’s a way of being, where we’re able to move beyond the preoccupation with our own significance and step out of our safe and comfortable circles.

Awe is wonderfully paradoxical. It frees us to experience both the fragility and the divinity within us and around us, and reminds us to embrace both the daunting and the exalting implications of life. It's this paradox that is at the core of who we are as human beings.

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This article was originally published on Happify, and appears here with permission.

The author, Homaira Kabir, is a positive psychology practitioner and education consultant. She is passionate about helping women uncover their purpose and reignite their energized engagement with life. In school settings, she helps adolescents find their passions and harness the brilliance of a key stage in their development.

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