Today’s story was contributed by Karen Spencer, a retired college professor, a Certified Health Coach, and Brain Health Coach. I enjoyed learning about the phenomenon of ‘awe deprivation’ and how we can enlarge our world with awe. I know you will too, darlings. Enjoy!
While on a recent visit to see grandchildren, I was working my daily crossword puzzle when Nora, our 11-year-old, walked in the kitchen. She heaved her heavy school backpack onto the kitchen table.
I smiled, then looked back down at my puzzle: a three letter word for ‘stunned wonderment’ .” I filled in the squares A- W -E.
“Nora,” I asked, “Were you in awe of anything today?”
“What does that mean?” She asked.
“Well, Nora, according to my crossword puzzle, it means stunned wonderment.”
She wrinkled her nose.
You know, like when you are amazed at something. Or when you see something so spectacular, it takes your breath away.
I repeated the question, “So, Were you in awe of anything today?”
“No”, she responded.
“Well, that sounds about right,” I continued. “Because I read an article a few days ago that said our society is not experiencing as much awe these days.”
“Hmmm,” she muttered, pulling out her homework.
Awe Deprivation: A Sign of the Times?
I continued, “But it’s not because there aren’t things to be in awe over…it’s just that we don’t pay attention.”
“Interesting,” she said, sounding not interested at all.
“I wonder if that’s really true?” I said as if speaking to myself. “I think I’ll try an experiment. Hey, Nora, Do you want to join me? How about we challenge ourselves to pay more attention and see if we find more awe in our lives?”
Nora shrugged her shoulders. “Sure.”
You know, there is something about taking on challenges that piques my interest. I began digging; looking more into this new phenomenon — A lack of awe in our lives.
I was surprised to find a plethora of information.
My research into the concept of awe is pulling up some pretty interesting stuff.
Did you know that there is a clinical name for this diminished occurrence of awe? It’s referred to as awe deprivation.
I didn’t realize that awe was such a hot topic. And despite centuries of philosophical fascination, I learned that awe has only been studied properly in the past 20 years.
Psychological scientists are just now starting to learn about its importance and the impact of the diminishing lack of it in our lives.
The Impact of Experiencing Awe
Here are some findings about the positive impact of regularly experiencing Awe in our lives:
- Experiencing Awe helps improve our relationships and appears to enhance individuals’ feelings of belonging
- Decreases our stress
- Makes us happier
- Increases our compassion
- Makes us more generous
- Enhances and elevates our spirituality.
- Makes us more humble
- Even our Physical health improves when individuals feel more awe.
- Awe has the potential to rekindle our sense of vitality in everyday life.
- And regularly experiencing awe increases our critical thinking ability.
A Story of Awe
And speaking of positive impacts, I read about William Shatner (Capt. James T Kirk; on the original Star Trek TV series) traveling on Jeff Bezos’s rocket. When Shatner rocketed from earth, he was the oldest person in history at 90 years old to journey into space.
When he emerged from the space capsule, Shatner was surrounded by the media and he was clearly shaken. Here were his words.
“In a way, it’s indescribable,” he said. “Everybody in the world needs to do this, everybody in the world needs to see the. . .” His words lost traction, and then he added, “It was unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
Fighting back tears, Shatner told Bezos, “What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine. I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. I just… it’s extraordinary. It’s extraordinary.”
And then he added, “I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it.”
It seems Shatner was expressing the emotional response of what apparently, few of us experience anymore. It’s a feeling that we were designed to enjoy, don’t you think? But sadly, many of us don’t.
Why Aren’t We Experiencing Awe?
I began to wonder, if experiencing awe was so good for us, then why weren’t we seeking it out? What was standing in our way?
Here are several explanations the scientists have found to explain why we aren’t having more ‘Awes’ in our lives:
- People are spending less mindful in natural settings
- People are spending more time in mind-numbing activities like scrolling on social media
- Participation in organized religious groups is declining in many developed countries.
- Admiration for others is more difficult, as isolation becomes more common.
- Even schools, which have so much potential to nurture the natural sense of awe that many children naturally experience, tend not to do so for various reasons, perhaps even thwarting kids’ curiosity in the process.
(So does that explain why my granddaughter seemingly has a detached attitude about awe?…. Her curiosity is being thwarted?)
So, if we have lost it, forgotten how to connect to it, or choose not to, what then can we do to gain our sense of awe back?
Well, Fortunately, we don’t have to all be catapulted up into space like William Shatner.
Jonah Paquette, author of the book Awestruck: How Embracing Wonder Can Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Connected, describes numerous ways we can incorporate awe into our daily routines.
Tips for Experiencing More Awe in Our Lives
Slow down and linger
Create space for awe to emerge in the, sometimes seemingly mundane, chores. While you water your plants, tenderly check for new leaves and buds. While eating, consider the time and energy the farmer used in order for you to enjoy the food in front of you.
By slowing down and appreciating the patience and effort involved in habitual processes, Paquette assures us, we will find ourselves awe-inspired.
Incorporate and be more in touch with your senses
Tune in deeply to your awareness of color, texture, scent, and sound. So do you suppose that’s why God gave us 5 senses….so we could use them? “
We continue to hear about how the mighty pull of social media and its algorithms fixes our gaze downwards. Dacher Joseph Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkely, shares some of his lab’s findings: “We recently interviewed 320,500 people from 26 countries about what brings them awe – and no one mentioned their smartphone.”
Take Awe walks out in nature
The evidence supporting the link between spending time outdoors, experiencing awe, and lower stress levels “has become so persuasive that many physicians have begun to ‘prescribe’ time spent in nature or in green spaces, the way one might typically prescribe a new medication,” says Paquette.
Start keeping a journal of things that ‘awed you’
Writing down your experiences of awe can give you a deeper appreciation and renewed sense of wonder.
Observe people with unique abilities
Watch someone do something you find remarkable.
Listen to music that moves you
Or better yet go to a live performance.
And here are a few other tips I have been trying out:
Read – Immerse yourself in a real-life story about someone that is awe-inspiring.
Try understanding a new concept and recapture your curiosity – I’ve been studying a lot about the brain lately…. Whoa…now that organ is awesome!
Ask others what makes them feel awe – My sister feels awe when she hikes up in the desert mountains and sees all the beautiful wildflowers.
Go places that you can expect to be awed- Places like the beach, Grand Canyon or an art museum.
Look at life through the lens of a microscope- Let that tiny little ant carrying the breadcrumb on his back, stop you in your tracks. Did you know an ant can lift more than 40 times his weight? That’s amazing!
Look at life through the lens of a telescope – Do more star gazing and moon bathing. Do you still make a wish on a falling star?
Hang out with children – If you have been around a young child lately you are quickly reminded of the many wonders and miracles in our world.
And speaking of children…
After returning from our grandchild visit, I spoke to Nora on the phone. I asked her if she remembered our conversation about awe.
She said yes. “In fact, I watched a softball game on TV and someone’s pet parrot got loose and landed on the umpire’s head!”
I chuckled. “Seriously! Can you imagine what the umpire thought? Yep, that sounds like an awe moment to me.”
She continued. “And then yesterday Dad had to run to the pharmacy to pick up his medication and when he got home, he threw the sack of pills on the kitchen counter. We had to hurry to get to softball practice in time.”
“When we got home the pills were strewn everywhere and the paper bag was in shreds. So, we had to rush both dogs to the Vet since we didn’t know which one of them had done it, or how many they had eaten and they both looked guilty! Right before the Vet was getting ready to do an expensive procedure the black lab threw up all over the place. He even threw up the paper bag! “
“Whoa…that must have been a sight!” I laughed. I can just see you standing there in stunned wonderment!
Are you awe deprived?
When was the last time you stood in stunned amazement; when your breath was taken away and you felt that extraordinary sense of wonder? I would like to challenge you to make use of some of the tips I’ve written about. I’m working on it as well.
We begin, as we do with any change in our lives; with attention, awareness, and intention.
Let’s ask and reflect on these questions:
Where and when am I missing out on experiencing more awe in my life?
Would I like to have more of it?
Karen Spencer is a retired college professor, a Certified Health Coach, and Brain Health Coach. She is a writer, speaker, and a teacher.
Her mission is to educate, inspire and influence women 55 and older to step up, dream big and become healthier, happier, and more fulfilled.
You can learn more about what she does at her website, SMALL STEPS FOR HEALTHY LIVING, Designing a healthier, more intentional and more fulfilling life.
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