Awe As A Health Booster
Do you recall the last time you felt truly in awe of something? Perhaps an experience like skydiving or hiking to the top of a beautiful mountain? When is the last time an experience gave you goosebumps or a wild thrill to be alive? When you close your eyes and recollect that memory in close detail, what transpires in your body? What transpires in your mind?
Researchers at the University of Berkeley Greater Good Science Center have been exploring exactly this: What is awe and how does it affect our wellbeing?
So, what is the exhilarating feeling we call “awe”? According to Craig Anderson, a researcher at the Greater Good Science Center, “Awe happens when you encounter something so vast that you feel you can’t wrap your mind around it completely in that moment. It is an experience or encounter so profound and unique, that connects us on another level to nature or humanity as a whole.”
Some of the experiences people report as creating the sensation of awe in their life are memorable, sometimes life-altering experiences. Some people say it is the birth of a child, seeing a sight of profound beauty like the Grand Canyon or the Mona Lisa. For others, it can be an experience like going up in a hot air balloon or mastering a skill you’ve been working on for a long time. It can also be listening to music that opens your senses and heart with a sensation of wonder. In some cases, people report feeling awe when they meet someone they respect and admire, a famous author, rockstar or personality.
While a great deal of research still needs to be done, there are preliminary reports showing that experiences that create awe reduce stress hormones, reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines, boost positive effects of serotonin and dopamine and even help veterans reduce symptoms of PTSD. The bottom line is that the feeling of awe creates a positive and healthful state of being. It’s antithetical to feel awe and feel bad at the same time.
In the town of Solvang, California, Monty Roberts has a farm called “Flags Up Farm.” At his ranch, he invites veterans to come and experience training and handling horses for the first time. The veterans that attend his programs all arrive with varying levels of PTSD. They participate in the activities and have hands on encounters with untrained as well as trained horses. They create a bond with their equine partners while they are there. In every case, the participants state that they had never experienced anything like it, that they felt a sense of hope and amazement from the time at the ranch. Participants all had relief from their PTSD and many of the vets return to Flags Up Farm for further learning and events. Monty Roberts has earned a name for himself and his program by bringing awe into veterans’ lives and giving them something greater than themselves to engage in.
What gives YOU the feeling of AWE?? Does that experience give you a sense of purpose? Sometimes it is a matter of slowing down and allowing awe to be part of your life. It is easy to miss those moments by being lost in thought or focusing our energy elsewhere. We could all use the moments of stopping to smell the roses and recognizing the incredible beauty that we pass by every day. It has a positive effect on our health to step outside of ourselves to be absorbed by the magnificence of the world around us. It connects us to nature, to beauty, to each other. That can only have beneficial effects on our health. On that note, have an AWESOME day.