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How Awe Can Transform Our Lives

Jul 31, 2020 09:30AM ● By Jonah Paquette
Man standing in flower field with arms raised to sky

Pindyurin Vasily/

What do you feel when you gaze up at the night sky, listen to a soul-stirring piece of music or witness an act of great courage or inspiration? What happens in your body, and what emotions arise, when you come face-to-face with these sorts of moments? This feeling—often complete with goosebumps and a shiver down the spine—is known as awe. And as it turns out, this underappreciated and often misunderstood emotion just might hold the key to a happy, meaningful and healthy life. 

Although we might think of awe as a rare experience, awe-inspiring moments are all around us. We don’t have to climb to the summit of Mount Everest or stand atop the Eiffel Tower to reap the many benefits of awe. Instead, we can learn to notice the changing colors of the leaves, truly see the joy in a child’s eyes or allow ourselves to be uplifted by the kindness of a stranger. When we do, it not only feels good in the moment—it actually can change life in lasting and profound ways. In fact, cutting-edge research has shown that awe holds many benefits, ranging from improved mental health, stronger immune systems, increased compassion, strengthened social bonds and much more. In short, the moments that make us go, “Wow!” can be the very moments that lastingly change our lives for the better. 

Here are some ways we can find more awe in our daily life: 

Seek out nature: Connect to the natural world, even by just visiting a local park, and notice the beauty all around.

Appreciate the good: Slow down and appreciate the small stuff—the aroma of morning coffee, time with loved ones, having a roof over our heads or even just the breath. 

Look for inspiration: The current challenges around the world have also shown some of the best of humanity. Spend time learning about the people making a difference and experience a sense of awe through their courage.

Expand the mind: Learning about mind-expanding topics like astronomy, the human brain or anything else that captures the imagination can be a great way to harness a feeling of awe. 

Foster connection: The next time we’re with the people we love, take a moment to appreciate how awe-inspiring it is to have the capacity to love and forge bonds the way that we do.

Jonah Paquette is a psychologist, author and international speaker specializing in the science of happiness and well-being. His newest book, Awestruck, explores how moments of awe and wonder can transform our lives.
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Global Brief: Natural Thinking Spending Time in Nature Increases Cognitive Performance
More of our time is spent indoors than ever before. One of the ways by which nature may improve cognitive function (i.e. the acquisition of and goal-oriented use of knowledge) is by improving memory formation and recall, specifically that of short-term or working memory, and goal-oriented or directed attention; the kind that requires focused effort. By comparing and contrasting 13 studies, a team of researchers has shed light on this complex interaction in research published in Frontiers in Psychology. The studies used the backwards digit span task, which requires participants to invert a series of numbers and repeat them back. All demonstrated significantly improved cognition in nature as compared to urban environments. The benefits of studies like this are two-fold: not only are we learning more about how the brain interacts with its environment, but also how to leverage this interaction to lead healthier, more productive and happier lives.
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