It doesn't matter what we've experienced – whether it's the breath-taking scope of the Grand Canyon, the ethereal beauty of the Aurora Borealis, or the exhilarating view from the top of the Eiffel Tower – at some point in our lives we've all had the feeling of being in a complete and overwhelming sense of awe.
I spent a lot of my childhood walking and horse-riding in the Berwyn Mountains. Whenever I return to the hills, I’m transported to my childhood – the beautiful views, the lambs and the first snow drops peeping through in spring, the fantastic array of colour in autumn.
When I am in the mountains my heart rate slows. Time stands still and I am home.
Awe seems to be a universal emotion, but it has been largely neglected by scientists—until now.
Psychological scientists Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management devised a way to study this feeling of awe in the laboratory. Across three different experiments, they found that jaw-dropping moments made participants feel like they had more time available and made them more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer time to help others.
The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and well-being can be explained by awe's ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down.
Experiences of awe help to bring us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions, and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.
Experiencing awe can also make you happier - an awe-inspiring experience can improve our mental state. It can even make us nicer people. For me some of the most awe inspiring experiences in my life have been watching my newborn daughters take their first breaths, standing on the top of Ben Nevis and taking in the view, watching the Aurora Borealis in the North Pole, and galloping on horseback across the moors high in the mountains with breath-taking views all around me.
But here’s the best part: you can find it in everyday life. You don’t have to book a trip to the Grand Canyon or head to the top of a mountain to find your special place. You just need to stay in the moment and appreciate what is around you. The researchers added: "Our studies... demonstrated that awe can be elicited by a walk down memory lane, brief story, or even a 60-second commercial”.
What will you do this week to get a little awe back into your life?