Harness the power of ‘awe’ to boost happiness and reduce anxiety

According to studies, feelings of awe can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Here’s how it works, plus a few inspiring awe-experiences to try today.  

Amidst the hustle and bustle of our fast-paced lives, cultivating feelings of tranquillity and joy can become vital to maintaining our wellbeing. Actively carving out precious moments where we can enjoy these simple, restorative pleasures can do wonders for both our bodies and minds. But how to go about this intentional practice? Enter the transformative power of awe experiences. 

 

From feats of astounding architecture to the profound beauty of nature, experiencing moments which stimulate the compelling emotion of awe has been shown to help alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, while also leaving us feeling happier and more connected to those around us. It’s even thought to help reduce inflammation, and has been linked to increased feelings of generosity and gratitude 

 

What’s more, you don’t need to take a trip to the Taj Mahal or gaze upon the Grand Canyon to experience awe. There are plenty of ways to evoke this wondrous feeling in our everyday lives. But before we dive into our top tips for creating daily awe experiences, let’s dive into the science. 

WHAT IS AWE?  

As powerful and inspiring as it can be, defining the intense experience and all-consuming feeling of ‘awe’ can be tricky. For University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross, awe is: “the wonder we feel when we encounter something powerful that we can’t easily explain.” According to scientists, it’s this magnitude and vastness of awe that can help us transcend our immediate surroundings and concerns, and energise our brain with exciting new stimuli. 

 

In their widely cited 2003 research paper, psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt suggest that awe experiences are those which disrupt or exceed our expectations in some way, and prompt us to do some cognitive realignment. A mental reset of sorts, which can shift and expand the way we look at the world.  

 

Read more: Introducing The Art of Soulful Living 

 

THE BENEFITS OF AWE 

Studies have found that against the vastness - either in physical size or a theoretical sense - of awe experiences, our brains actually shift attention away from our sense of self. This shift away from our individual stresses or concerns is what allows us to carve out space for a host of benefits, from positivity to kindness.  

 

Feeling rushed and overwhelmed? A 2012 study found that participants who experienced awe felt they had more time available and were less impatient. They were also more willing to volunteer their time to help others.  

 

Read more: This is how to slow down time and make the most of every moment 

 

Scientists in Italy have found a link between awe experiences and reduced feelings of anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, research has also found that awe may help decrease chronic inflammation, increase feelings of connection with others, and leave us feeling happier and more positive. 

 

7 EASY-TO-TRY AWE EXPERIENCES 

1. Awe-walks in nature

Take a leisurely walk in a natural setting, whether it's a nearby park, forest or along a beach. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, and scents of nature to induce a sense of awe. 

 

2. Listening to new music

Explore genres and artists you haven't encountered before. Music has the power to evoke strong emotions and create awe-inspiring moments. 

 

3Art appreciation

Visit an art museum or gallery and immerse yourself in paintings, sculptures or installations. Allow the creativity of artists to evoke a sense of awe. 

 

4. Stargazing

Find a quiet spot away from city lights and gaze up at the night sky. The vastness of the universe can trigger intense feelings of awe and humility. 

 

5. Architectural marvels

Visit iconic architectural structures in your area. Whether it's a historical cathedral or a modern skyscraper, the grandeur of architecture can be truly awe-inspiring.  

 

6. Sunset or sunrise watching

Witnessing the changing colours of the sky during sunrise or sunset can be a breathtaking experience, promoting deep feelings of awe and gratitude. 

 

7. Reading inspirational literature

Dive into books or poems that explore profound themes. Thought-provoking literature can open your mind and create awe-inspiring moments.