Ever encountered something so vast, so beautiful, so intense, that your mind struggled to comprehend it? There's a word for that, and multiple studies have concluded that it's very good for your health. It's the experience of awe.
Psychologists describe awe as those feelings we get when we're touched by the beauty of nature, art, music, thinking about inspiring people, or having a spiritual breakthrough that is so indescribable, it leaves us, well...in awe.
What it does to your brain
Researchers are saying is that we need to experience more awe in life because it boosts happiness and eliminates things like depression and other autoimmune diseases.
UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner, Ph.D, co-author of an awe study, says in Greater Good that experiencing the emotion of awe--"a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art--has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy."
One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that inducing awe increased ethical decision-making, generosity, and prosocial values. Just by standing in a grove of towering trees "enhanced prosocial helping behavior and decreased entitlement" among participants. In other words, it made people kinder!
It's good for the workplace too
If you're not getting enough hours to get more things done, take note. A study published in Psychological Science found that awe leads to feeling like you have more time available. It also brings you into the present moment, makes you less impatient with co-workers and clients, and helps you to influence your decisions.
More research found that inducing awe at work results in people cooperating, building community, sharing resources, and sacrificing for each other--all altruistic traits of a productive and supportive work setting.
Awe also stimulates wonder and curiosity in people -- behavioral traits that more companies are assessing and hiring for culture-fit. As it turns out, curious people are very proactive and results-oriented -- eager to learn new things and help improve the business.
Take your meeting outside
With technology ruling our lives 24/7, with so much of our attention being fixated on our devices, and with so much of our time being spent indoors at work, we are quickly becoming awe-deprived.
Conversely, we are seeing a growing trend known as "walk and talk" -- meetings that take place during a walk outdoors instead of generic indoor settings where meetings are commonly held.
Research has found that the mere act of walking actually increases the likelihood of creative thinking, making walking meetings even more effective while increasing the possibility of inducing awe. Other evidence finds that walking meetings lead to more honesty at work and are more productive than traditional sit-down meetings.
Consider taking an "Awe Walk." Keltner describes it as a "walk within a place of meaning and beauty, where your sole task is to encounter something that amazes and transcends, be it big or small."
Keltner says you can take an Awe Walk day or night, in rural and urban settings. Here are the steps he goes through during his Awe Walk.
- Take a deep breath in. Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale. Keep doing it throughout the other steps.
- Feel your feet on the ground and listen to the surrounding sounds.
- Shift your awareness now so that you are open to what is around you, to things that are vast, unexpected, things that surprise, and delight.
- Let your attention be open in exploration for what inspires awe -- the sights and sounds, big or small, all around you.
- Bring your attention back to the breath. Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale. Coming out of these experiences of awe, we often feel a sense of wonder.
As you move through your day, states Keltner, take note of the moments that bring you wonder, that give you goosebumps: These are your opportunities for awe.
Bringing It home
We are depleting ourselves of the awe-some (yes, I said it) opportunity to experience the wonders and beauty of the natural world, or the wonders and beauty of human interactions that bring value to the workplace. Organizations of every stripe are in a key position to seek out and create the environment for these experiences to take place -- the kind that, they'll find, surprisingly, will lead to productive outcomes.