We all need a little awe in our lives – it’s been known to have a robust positive impact on our entire well-being.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we learn more about the ‘effect’ of awe on our lives.
A March 2023 study published in the scientific journal Perspectives on Psychological Science found that awe activates five processes that improve mental and physical health:
1. Physiological changes
A sense of wonder literally creates neurophysiological shifts in our bodies. For instance, it lowers our levels of stress, reduces inflammation, increases oxytocin, produces lower default-mode network activity – a brain area related to self-reflectiveness – and improves the rest and digestive action of the parasympathetic nervous system.
2. Transformation of self
Experiences with awe reduce our self-focus – this is important for our mental health, since a heightened focus on the self has been linked to many disorders, such as depression, anxiety, body-image issues, and eating disorders.
Both in the lab and in natural settings, experience with awe were found to spark greater levels of cooperation, sacrifice, sharing and other modes of altruism.
4. Social integration
A sense of awe was found to make people feel more connected to their social and natural environments – they experienced feelings of humanity with others, and shared a sense of belonging in their social setting. Having strong social networks is one of the biggest indicators of positive mental and physical health, so the fact that wonder encourages this positive benefit, is important.
5. Meaningful existence
We make sense of our lives by finding meaning or a sense of purpose, via connections between our past, present, values and relationships with others. Experiences with awe can ignite engagement in meaning-making.
According to the study, we can find awe in everyday experiences in three ways – by being in the vastness of Nature, feeling connected through spirituality and religion, and through collective movement and rituals, like celebrating, enjoying music and dance, or ceremonies.