Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: We Need to Feel “Awe”- Solar Eclipses, Sunsets, Snowflakes…

If you have ever felt speechless looking up at the Grand Canyon, compelled to take a picture of an incredible sunset, or riveted by a flock of birds in formation, you know the sense of “Awe.” 

The Meaning of Awe

According to Dascher Keltner, researcher and founder of the Greater Good Project, “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.”

Those witnessing the full totality of the Solar Eclipse or even some part of it on Monday August 21, 2017 are likely to have an experience of “Awe.” Those who have experienced the Solar Eclipse many times and describe themselves as eclipse chasers, describe it as  a primal feeling of excitement- “ Wow, this is really strange and beautiful ” an “ Oh my God” experience.

It is even likely that those throughout the country who gather to see a full or partial darkening will also be awed by the sheer number of people gathered together to look beyond our planet to witness an incredible phenomena. Shared emotional experiences of awe connect people.

Something that evokes a sense of awe is transformative – even if it lasts for a moment.

As such, it is important to know that feelings of awe are not necessarily tied to big events. Researchers find the feeling of awe can be stimulated by music, the sight of your toddler sleeping on top of the dog, the size of the tomato growing in your summer garden.

We Need to Feel Awe

Historically, psychologists like Maslow underscored the importance of awe as “ peak-experiences” important for health development.

Dascher Keltner maintains that for evolutionary reasons, awe is good for our minds, bodies and social connections.

  • Keltner’s findings reveal that experiencing awe (looking up in a grove of the tallest eucalyptus trees in North America) seemed to make people more inclined to help someone in need.
  • In addition, they reported feeling less entitled and self-important than study participants who did not have the awe experience.
  • In other studies, Keltner found that feelings of awe, more than feelings of pride or amusement, led people to cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice for others.

Christopher Bergland lists the sense of awe as one of the tools of “The Vagus Nerve Survival Guide to Combat Fight or Flight Urges.” Drawing upon emerging neurophysiological research on the experience of “ awe”, he suggests is that unlike worry or even very strong positive emotions, the experience of awe uniquely activates the vagus nerve which sets in motion the parasympathetic nervous system and the heart regulation, deep breathing etc. associated with a calm steady state.

Getting a Daily Dose of Awe

Whether the whales in Alaska or the morning butterflies in your garden, research finds a daily dose of awe contributes to our well-being. You can even try out some awe practices. 

Science writer, Matt Hudson who shares the awe experience of a “new dawn” as central to infusing him with the self-acceptance he struggled with as a young adult, underscores the transformative potential of what is experienced as awesome. As the author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking – he affirms the magical power of a rainbow after a long storm.

Embrace the Experience of the Eclipse and Don’t Miss The Daily Moments of Awe