Ever hiked down the Grand Canyon? Scaled up Yosemite's Half Dome? Stood at the top of Christ the Reedemer and looked down at Rio de Janeiro's city landscape?
These things (along with watching the birth of my son, seeing Kirk Gibson blast that miraculous game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series, and hearing U2's "Unforgettable Fire" album for the first time) left me in awe--feelings that I can still access in my memory and relive to this day.
These personal illustrations serve a bigger purpose. As it turns out, experiencing the positive emotions that come with feelings of awe is also very good for your health.
Let me unpack this for you.
The Research on Awe Will Make You Want More of It
Psychologists describe awe as the experience of encountering something so vast--in size, skill, beauty, intensity, etc.--that our brains struggle to make sense of it. It's those feelings we get when we're touched by the beauty of nature, art, music or having a spiritual breakthrough that is so indescribable, it leaves us, well...in awe.
This is the type of feeling to get addicted to with no guilt or negative consequences. Allow me to geek out on the science for one short paragraph.
Researchers have linked awe with "lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder." OK, I'll dumb it down a bit.
What science is basically saying is that we need to experience more awe in life because it boosts happiness and eliminates things like depression and other autoimmune diseases.
That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions--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. Get this: Just by standing in a grove of towering trees "enhanced prosocial helping behavior and decreased entitlement" among participants. In other words, it made people much nicer!
Another study published in Psychological Science found that awe leads to feeling like you have more time available. It brings you into the present moment, makes you less impatient, and helps you to influence your decisions. All in all, it makes life feel more abundant and satisfying.
Have I convinced you to experience more awe in life? How about more awe at work?
Does Awe in the Workplace Matter?
You betcha. Research says 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 because people who are more curious have a "hungry mind," and get along better with co-workers. They're also eager to learn more, are always interested in the next best thing, and are more likely to look at how they can improve the day-to-day business.
Keltner, who is also founding director of the Greater Good Science Center, says that our culture is becoming more awe-deprived. He brings it full circle:
We spend more time working and commuting and less time outdoors and with other people. So often our gaze is fixed on our smartphones rather than noticing the wonders and beauty of the natural world or witnessing acts of kindness, which also inspire awe. Our culture has become more individualistic, more narcissistic, more materialistic, and less connected to others.
Take This Home with You
Organizations should look to infuse more daily experiences of awe into stagnant work routines. Take your meetings outdoors, meet a client on top of a cliff, bring your next all-hands-on-deck to the beach right before sunset.
If immersing in nature is not an option, find awe by getting to know the vast talent and precious humanity that surrounds you--the very people you work with. Do you know their gifts and strengths, on and off the job? Perhaps it's time to wind down and showcase the wonders of your colleagues in a company talent show.
The science is clear: Opportunities for experiencing awe will impact people and organizations. Awe surrounds us daily. We just have to seek it out and create opportunities to experience more of it.
Be inspired. Be in awe.