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Why Awe Should be Part of Your Emotional Life
And the closest I’ll ever get to Mars! 👽
I recently had the incredible privilege of touring NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The best way to describe the experience is awe-inspiring. From robotic technology to the Mars missions…I can’t even begin to describe how impressed I was.
I left there that day feeling so proud of the smart people doing this work, of NASA, of the power of human curiosity and thirst for knowledge…I was hopeful and excited for the discoveries we have yet to make thanks to their efforts. And I realized this is why awe is so important. So let’s get into it…
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These images are from the “High Bay” at JPL where I watched as these engineers and scientists work on Europa Clipper. This orbiter is headed for Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons with conditions that could be suitable for life!
Why Awe is Important for Humans
First, let’s briefly touch on what awe is exactly. Awe is an intense, profound, and overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear mixed with wonder. It can be triggered by encountering something that is grand, beautiful, or beyond our understanding.
Experiencing awe often leads to a sense of humility and a deep appreciation for the world around us. Research has shown that awe can have various positive effects on individuals, including promoting feelings of connectedness, enhancing overall well-being, and fostering a broader perspective on life.
Remember a few years ago when the rover Perseverance successfully made it to Mars and is now obtaining rock samples from the surface, looking for signs of ancient life?? Well, this is it’s twin, called OPTIMISM (I really like this name :))! At JPL they use this model to test algorithms and iterate on the best ways to use the real rover on Mars.
Awe also stimulates curiosity and wonder, motivating us to be more creative and innovative. It propels us to dream big. I mean if not for awe, we might never have started searching for life on Mars! And if not for awe, we wouldn’t be so enamored by UFOs (today more than ever!).
Lastly, awe has the power to make us more collectivistic. In fact, it’s likely that awe exists for that purpose exactly. When we experience awe, we are more likely to view ourselves as part of a group. In one study, researchers found that people were more likely to identify as part of a group when looking at a replica of T. rex. In another, people were more likely to help someone in need after experiencing a moment of awe.
In essence, awe brings out kinder, less narcissistic, and more positive traits in individuals. Imagine if we all prioritized awe in our lives more often? Imagine the potential for us and our future generations? Imagine the places we can go, people we can heal, and time we can spend as happier beings?
Ok, clearly, awe has done its number on me. So now, it’s your turn. What stories of awe have you experienced recently? What will you do next?
Next Steps for Happier Beings
Make a plan once a week to go do something that will inspire awe. You can be intentional and focus on the “aweness” of everyday things all around you. Here are some ways to generate more awe in your life:
Go for a walk in your neighborhood or city to appreciate aspects of nature, like trees, or the impressive scale of the buildings and unique architecture.
Attend a live music or theater show.
Walk through an art gallery or museum and really take your time with each exhibit.
Get inspired by someone else’s determination to improve, triumph, or build something (maybe a friend who is building a tree house or your old neighbor who continues to go on daily walks despite her chronic pain, or a family member who is working on a unique project).
Plan a camping trip and look up at the night sky to see just a glimpse of that vast universe from your one tiny spot within it.
Take breaks from your smartphone so you don’t miss serendipitous moments of awe in the world in front of you. You can also decide to spend more of your attention on online content that is more likely to get those goosebumps going…like art, nature, inspiration videos etc rather than the other junk that clogs up your social feeds or email inboxes.
Get out of your comfort zone. Say yes more often to experiences or opportunities that you wouldn’t normally do. When we put ourselves in novel situations, we are more likely to experience awe.
Content for happier beings
This Galaxy Song from Monty Python is extremely fitting for today’s topic!
A few sources of online content that instilled a sense of awe in me: this musical performance in Iceland, this incredible collection of libraries around the world, and, as someone who has been to the incredible Iguazu Falls, this video brings back the awe I felt back then.
If you want more space related content to inspire some awe, NASA will be launching a free streaming service called NASA+! You can check out the trailer here.
Please feel free to hit reply and let me know what you think. What would you like to see more of in these newsletters? What questions do you have about mental health and happiness?
As always, I’m here for you.
Dr. Tal Leead, Psy.D.
“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”
– Jiddu Krishnamurt