Health Benefits of Awe and Wonder

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

On most clear nights, I look up at the stars and feel a sense of awe and wonder contemplating the vast distance and mystery of outer space, and my own humble place in the universe. You might feel awe and wonder when you witness a great Olympic athlete complete a record-breaking swim, run, jump or inspiring gymnastics routine. University of California, Berkeley psychologist, Dacher Keltner, started a three-year study of awe in 2013. Keltner and his colleagues found that awe inspires feelings of social connection.

Awe makes us kinder to one another and less self-centered. Social psychologist Paul Piff from the University of California, Irvine performed a series of experiments with his colleagues that showed that those with a higher capacity for awe tend to behave more generously toward others. They were surprised that many types of experiences of awe and wonder seemed to reduce self-centeredness and promoted kindness and more pro-social behaviors. It’s as if we transcend ourselves and contemplate the world and the people around us in a different way when we experience awe and wonder.

Peak Experiences and Everyday Wonder

Many peak experiences, like giving birth to a child, or falling in love, can make us feel a sense of awe and wonder. However, you can cultivate an appreciation of awe with even the simplest of things like:

  • Watching nesting birds.
  • Listening to great music.
  • Observing professional sports.
  • Experiencing the first snowfall of the year.
  • Reading stories of great heroism.
  • Watching the intricate patterns in a spider web.

It is wonderful to know that cultivating a sense of awe and wonder provides many health benefits. Awe enhances your immune system response, and reduces stress. Look around for opportunities to experience the eye-opening intoxication of awe and wonder. It might just make this day happier, and more fulfilling.

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein

Photo courtesy of: Mathewwu88