The Science of Awe: Why Wonder Boosts Happiness, Health, and Connection

The Science of Awe: Why Wonder Boosts Happiness, Health, and Connection

Why We Need More Awe Experiences in Our Lives

Amidst our hectic lives, prioritizing awe might be overlooked, yet its transformative power should not be underestimated. The solution? Seek daily moments of awe. 

In a recent podcast, Dr. Dan Stickler and guest Dacher Keltner delve into the emotional world, exploring awe's transformative effects. The discussion covers awe's intricacies, its psychological and physiological responses, the neuroscience behind it, and its intersection with psychedelic experiences. What follows is a summary of the conversation about awe.

Key Takeaways:

  • Awe is an emotion is distinct from emotions like happiness and fear, often leading to a diminished sense of self and a connection to something larger.
  • Psychological changes (sense of connection and curiosity) and physiological responses (vagal tone, oxytocin release) are linked to the emotion of awe.
  • Awe can be cultivated through specific practices, like awe walks, or by immersing oneself in music, art, or nature-focused contemplation.
  • There is potential for awe to be integrated into institutions like education, healthcare, and museums, enhancing societal well-being.
  • Psychedelics can be used for creating awe-induced states. 

The Intrinsic Value of Awe in Emotional Science

Awe is traditionally considered a rare and complex emotion, yet Dr. Keltner's insights reveal its ubiquitous nature and the ways we can actively enhance its presence in our lives. Awe as an Emotion is a fleeting state, often spurred by encounters with enormity and enigma – from the grandeur of a Redwood tree to the boundless curiosity of children's laughter.

The experience of awe isn't limited to our thoughts and feelings. Dr. Keltner explains how awe has unique physiological markers from tears to goosebumps, signaling a complex interplay between our bodies and emotions.

When you feel awe, the default mode network in your brain is deactivated... It's the opposite of 'fight or flight' physiology. – Dacher Keltner

Embracing Smallness and Humility

Awe has a profound impact on our perception of ourselves in relation to the broader world. Numerous studies indicate that experiencing awe can evoke a sense of smallness, diminishment, or insignificance, commonly referred to as the "small self" effect. This smallness is not about belittlement; instead, it's a realization of our intricate place within a vast universe. It takes us beyond our individual concerns, promoting a sense of connection and broader perspective.

The Ripple Effects of Awe on Society

The remarkable power of awe lies in its ability to unite individuals. Studies indicate that experiencing awe fosters a greater sense of connection both with the individuals in our immediate circle and with humanity at large. A heightened collective engagement with awe may counteract the emphasis on self that pervades our current cultural climate, reduce polarization, and enhance altruistic behaviors.

How Psychedelics Can Be Used for Creating Awe-Induced States

The emerging research of using psychedelics to induce states of awe highlights an emerging interest in the therapeutic possibilities of this emotion in clinical settings. A better understanding of awe's neurochemical changes could pave the way for innovative treatments for mental health where traditional methods falter.

Engendering Awe in Children

Encouraging awe in children sets the stage for a lifelong affinity for learning, creativity, and socio-emotional growth. By fostering this understanding and exposure from the beginning, we may contribute to a more empathetic and connected future generation.

The speakers' dialogue underscores the importance of prioritizing awe within cultural institutions. A society that appreciates awe's boundless capacity for empathy and connectedness is primed for positive transformation, making studies on awe, not just intriguing but vital for our collective evolution.

Reflecting on Dr. Stickler and Dr. Keltner's engaging discourse compels us to look closer at the experiences that elicit awe in our lives. Through a deeper appreciation of the vastness that surrounds us, we can find profound joy and meaning in the seemingly mundane. The journey into awe carries the promise of a more unified and inspired humanity, where the everyday is painted with the brush of wonder.

The conversation was educational, beautiful, and heartwarming, leaving you more aware of just how vital incorporating awe experiences into everyday life is to live a life full of purpose. Listen in now.  

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