How often are we inspired to experience awe? Not just when we say “awww” when we see a cute kitten, hold a cuddly puppy or hear the adorable coos of a happy baby. The times we feel that intense emotion that’s real awe — when we get goosebumps or feel that special brand of joy when we notice a double rainbow in the sky, witness the miracle of birth, appreciate a magnificent work of art, or listen to the birds sing a melodious tune in harmony with one another. That enveloping feeling that we get when we realize how small we are in this vast universe.
Awe is a human experience that helps all of us thrive — both children and adults. Scientists are discovering that the effects of awe may even be stronger than those of other positive emotions. Cutting edge research at University of California Berkeley shows that experiencing awe benefits our health us in profound ways — psychologically, socially, and physically. Even writing about awe can help us feel happier. When we feel awe, we become less self-conscious; we don’t sweat the small stuff so much; we act with more compassion, kindness and generosity towards others; and we feel more satisfied with life in general. And studies show that positive emotions such as awe lower our risk of inflammation.
Just being in nature can be awe inspiring. Naturalist and 19th century environmentalist John Muir, understood the transcendent nature of nature which inspired him to dedicate his life to advocating to preserve the U.S.’s national parks. Thankfully, his efforts helped ensure that millions of us can experience the awesomeness of our nation’s treasures.
So how do we increase our experiences of awe for ourselves and for our children? When we say “that’s awesome” casually in everyday conversation, we are reacting to something another person has done that’s impressive in some way or something that pleases us. But do we ever stop and help our children label the emotion as “awe” for them when they are exposed to the beauty of nature or an unexpected act of pure human kindness and compassion?
Let’s be more conscious of the awesomeness around us, open ourselves up to being inspired to feel awe and share those experiences with our families. Let’s get out in nature more, camp out under the stars in the night sky, listen to more live music, go to more art museums and be awe-inspired by the miracle of new life. And, as parents, let’s teach our children to appreciate the wonders of this world. They will benefit as much as we do and appreciate the true meaning of the word “awesome”!