As we enter the new year, gifts have been exchanged and unwrapped. We’ve celebrated and enjoyed the holidays and are now settling in for the rest of a long Wisconsin winter. For some of us, this season brings a welcome time of quietude. For others, it is a difficult time of year. The festivities are over, the days are short, the nights are long, and our weather and the pandemic limit socializing. It is easy to become moody and introspective. Yet there are so many things to be thankful for, and one of the greatest of them is the gift of awe, a gift that can be enjoyed all year long.
Awe is defined as a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder. Other words that describe this phenomenon are wonder, wonderment, amazement, astonishment, admiration, reverence, or veneration. Our youngest children best exemplify the joy that comes from experiencing awe. To see the world through a child’s eyes is to become young again. And yet, somewhere along the way, many of us lose our sense of awe and wonder.
Have you ever gotten goosebumps listening to spectacular pieces of music? Have you ever felt tears running down your cheeks while appreciating a sunrise or sunset? Have you ever smelled bread baking, or soup simmering, or caught a whiff of lavender, and found yourself flooded with awesome memories? Have you ever been awed by the beauty and precision of thought or language in someone’s writing or speech? Have you ever tasted that first swallow of ice-cold water when you’re parched? All these experiences fill us with astonishment and can leave us with a loss for words. This is AWE!
While thinking about awe (after being wonderfully awed by some splendid winter sunrises, sunsets, and celestial night skies), I serendipitously came across this article,
Awe Might Be Our Most Undervalued Emotion: Here's How to Help Children Find It
In this article, author Deborah Farmer Kris cites the research of Psychologist Dacher Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Keltner has spent years studying the beneficial effects of awe on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. He states that, “Awe makes us curious rather than judgmental. It makes us collaborative. It makes us humble, sharing, and altruistic. It quiets the ego so that you’re not thinking about yourself as much.”
These past two years have been extremely difficult for all of us. Many psychologists, psychiatrists, and educators have sounded the alarm about mental health issues in all of us, and particularly in children and adolescents. So, what are some things we can do? Promoting awe might be a very important key.
Though we might not be able to conjure up awe at will, it may find us -- if we are open to experience, and if we set aside time and place to allow it to work its magic. Keltner explains it like this, “How do you find awe? You slow things down. You allow for mystery and open questions rather than test-driven answers. You allow people to engage in the humanities of dance and visual art and music.”
Awe may foster other benefits as well. In another study of more than 400 high school adolescents, researchers found that “the more awe that students felt, the more curiosity they expressed and the better they performed at school.” It seems possible then that awe, curiosity, and openness to experience promote performance. These seem to be gifts that keep on giving!
In yet another study,
Big Smile, Small Self: Awe walks promote prosocial positive emotions in older adults
healthy older adults took weekly 15-minute outdoor walks for 8 weeks. Known as “awe walks,” this activity was intended to provide both exercise and a deliberate focus on awe. The findings… ”Compared with participants who took control walks, those who took awe walks experienced greater awe during their walks and exhibited an increasingly “small self” in their photographs (taken during their walks) over time. They reported greater joy and prosocial positive emotions during their walks and displayed increasing smile intensity over the study.” Again, awe provides a gift that keeps on giving.
If you are interested in this transcendent experience of awe, here is another article that may interest you: The Science of Awe from the John Templeton Foundation. Truly awe is emerging as one of the most profound human brain experiences, and since many gifted individuals report that they often experience heightened levels of emotional sensitivity, the research on awe is especially thought-provoking.
Though much of the research on awe and wonder centers on the natural world, Keltner also makes the case for experiencing a sense of awe and wonder at the goodness of others. He cites the words of Fred Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Awe is finding goodness emerging in scary situations; it is that astonishment at the kindness and helpfulness and courage of people facing horrific events. Keltner says, “It’s kindness and courage. We have this capacity to be moved by other people.” Indeed, we do, and we need to share this awe with others.
This research gave me much to think about; I hope it does the same for you. As a parting thought, may I suggest that you pair your awe with a sense of gratitude? Find time every day to count your blessings and your moments of awe; savor them and allow them to enrich your life.
Happy New Year!
Jackie Drummer, Past President and Board Advisor
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can be found in our website blogs.)
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.