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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

915: The awe-inspiring is all around you.The awe-inspiring is within you.

Day 915: Saturday, September 17, 2022

The awe-inspiring is all around you.The awe-inspiring is within you.

As a neuroscientist-turned-science-journalist, one of my goals is to reveal the wonder and mystery of the brain, and why it matters in our everyday lives. And there’s no better place to start than to explore our ability to experience awe, and how seeking awe-inspiring experiences can improve our well-being.

Awe has two fundamental components, say researchers who study the emotion. It is a response to encountering something more vast, complex, or mind-blowing than we had conceived of either physically or conceptually. The experience also induces a change in how we see the world, producing “little earthquakes in the mind.”

Awe might be our most undervalued emotion. Research has repeatedly found that experiencing something extraordinary may make us (and our worries) feel small. And not in a bad way.

Positive experiences of awe have also been found to increase feelings of well-being, life satisfaction and sense of meaning.

By becoming less attuned to ourselves and more attuned to the rest of the world, awe helps us re-contextualize ourselves. It helps make you feel like there’s more going on in the world than just you. And it gives you that sense of being a part of something much bigger than yourself.

Awe leads people to feel more connected with others and identify with more universal categories such as “a person” or “inhabitant of earth,” as opposed to more individualistic, limited ones.

In different studies, when researchers induced awe in participants in laboratories, such as by showing panoramic clips of places on Earth, people behaved more prosocially, being more likely to help out, donate more money and volunteer more time for strangers.

By transforming our sense of self and meaning, and enhancing our relationship with others and the wider world, awe has the power to improve our mental and physical health.

Eliciting awe in the every day

You don’t need to visit the Grand Canyon, witness the birth of your child or hold a brain to experience awe. The awe-inspiring is all around you.

Awe is related to this sense of oneness with humankind, I think you can have your mind blown in more mundane, minuscule ways in even everyday settings.”

Many paths lead to awe.

Viewing something giant such as a mountain range or ocean.

Discovering something tiny such as the worlds seen through a microscope.

Contemplating a piece of music or (re)discovering a piece of art.

Taking “awe walks” through your neighborhood or in nature, which is a never-ending source of awe.

Just take a walk out the door. Once you step outside, pick a random number between 1 and 100. Take that number of steps, and look beneath your feet. If you look around to find something inspiring, odds are you will.

Nature can affect human well-being in many more ways than you think

The awe-inspiring is also within you.

Our brains are capable of astounding mental achievements — launching spaceships to planets millions of miles away, creating effective vaccines to combat pandemics — and coordinating our bodies to perform physical feats.

But your brain is performing equally wondrous functions right this instance, perhaps without you knowing.

Your brain is perceiving squiggles on a page and transforming them into meaning, while putting them into a broader context by remembering what came before. It is filtering out extraneous sounds around you, the touch of clothing on your skin. Because of your brain, you are simultaneously maintaining the muscle tone to keep whatever posture you are in and breathing unconsciously (though perhaps now no longer).

Your brain — 80 billion-some neurons relaying electrical and chemical signals across approximately 100 trillion connections — is sensing, feeling, deciding, evaluating, planning, adjusting and keeping you alive.

And in considering all these concurrent acts and duties, you are maybe even experiencing a twinge of awe, a feeling our brain allows us to experience — and is also a source of.

And that is pretty awesome.


Announcement #4:

Race, Identity, and the Power of Story

Sponsored by North Bay Organizing Project's Religious Leaders' Caucus

Saturday, September 17th


Christ Church United Methodist

1717 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa, CA

As people of faith and goodwill, we are called to dismantle racism. But we often stick to book studies and videos, because we feel awkward with new people, or we're afraid that we'll mess up. While our feelings are valid, we can learn to show up in our community better!

Join us for a time of personal reflection, group discussion, and learning through story-telling, led by facilitators from Uncommon Grace. Dinner, additional relationship building, and a solidarity action will follow the workshop.

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