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OPINION

MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS: Awe

By Bill Mory
Special to the Herald Democrat

Awe. What a complex, interesting and beautiful emotion. Although Awe has been on the ‘radar’ of philosophy and religious schooling for centuries, it has been only since the early 2000’s that Psychologists and researchers have begun to study Awe empirically. 

In the, then landmark, 2003 paper Keltner and Haidt identified two major elements of Awe: perceived vastness and the need for accommodation. You might think of perceived vastness as feeling small (in a good way) while experiencing something wonderous.  The need for accommodation simply means that as a result of the experience of this vastness, a need to accommodate this larger feeling arises. It often sweeps over us in the presence of big things. I would describe this as ‘stretching your mind’.  

It makes sense then, when people are describing Awe, that they use words like unbelievable, mind-blowing or indescribable.  Keltner and Haidt explain that these two core features of ‘perceived vastness’ and ‘need for accommodation’ are what distinguishes Awe from other positive emotions.  

So how is Awe good for us? With the perceived vastness also comes this sense of feeling small or even humbled. It lessens tendencies such as entitlement, arrogance and narcissism. It increases tendencies such as engagement and connection to others. The idea is that Awe seems to help us become more pro-social, therefore promoting social harmony.  

Awe also may help our physical health. In a study conducted by Jennifer Stellar, PhD and Amie Gordon, PhD, they found that people who reported experiencing more Awe also had better immune health. Awe could also help us with larger, societal problems. Researcher Craig Anderson, Ph.D. at University of California at San Francisco, demonstrated how Awe could reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress and simultaneously increase social well-being as well as helping people feel more connected to their community.  

So then, if Awe is so good for us then how do we go about getting more of it? Here are some things you can do that can help you experience Awe more frequently: 

Get out in to nature, observe what is around you or try to see the vastness. You can get to high spots to see vast views or take a walk outside noticing smaller mysteries of life.  

Get out of your comfort zone. Novelty is a big aspect of Awe. Try something new, go somewhere in your town that you haven’t been to before, such as a hiking a nearby trail, a new museum. 

Have an Open Mind. Try being more curious and become more comfortable with uncertainty. This can help us to see other new possibilities.   

Look around you, with heads up, out of devices.  

Get an Awe buddy. Someone you can share Awe experiences with by talking about them or doing them together.  

Just becoming more curious about Awe itself can help you to experience it more often. I have found this happening as I have become more curious and even while researching for this article. Looking into it, talking about it with others has caused me to begin to experience it more often. Consider trying to get your own dose of daily awe and see what it might do for you. 

Bill Mory

Bill Mory is licensed therapist in private practice, in Texoma, who is an active member of the local behavioral health network and a provider of workplace training on Mindfulness, Emotional Brain Training and other topics. Learn more at www.morytherapy.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.