Seeking Awe

Research on chronic pain reveals that people who experience chronic pain struggle to feel positive emotions. Whether that’s as a result of chronic pain or whether being predisposed to feeling less happiness makes one more predisposed to chronic pain is unclear, but what is clear is that experiencing more positive emotions improves people’s reports of how painful their symptoms are.

Researchers at UC Berkeley have uncovered a relatively simple practice that you can begin today to add more joy to your life, improve well being, and increase your likelihood of behaving generously: seek awe. 

Those researchers defined awe "as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world." That word might bring something extraordinary to mind like the Grand Canyon, looking out over the vastness of the ocean, or the towering redwoods. But it can also be found in the mundane details of our everyday life if we pay attention. 

One of the greatest gifts of mindfulness practice for me has been restoring my sense of awe to everyday life. I see that my two year old son experiences awe regularly because everything he sees or experiences is new. Somewhere along the line, though, if you're like me you got wrapped up in the routines of life and stopped being curious about or awed by life. 

You can set an intention today to begin to seek out awe in the the everyday movements: listening to your favorite song; reading about an incredible feat of kindness, bravery, or athleticism; the feeling of your child's hand in yours; peering up into the luminous full moon. 

Astoundingly, the researchers in this study found that each of burst of awe a person experienced resulted in greater curiosity and well-being even two weeks after. In the words of Mary Oliver, my wish for you is that you be mindful and curious so that everyday, you "see or hear something that more or less kills you with delight."