When was the last time you had an awe-inspiring experience? If it's been a while, you might want to go seek one out — according to new research from UC Berkeley, feeling the emotion of awe correlates with better health and relationships. It turns out that having awesome experiences leads to engaging in more pro-social behavior, meaning that you're more willing to be generous and do things selflessly. Not only that, but it also increases our ability to empathize with others, trust them, and connect with them emotionally. In terms of health, the researchers also found that experiencing awe can reduce inflammation and even be a good cure for depression. The study's findings align with what other current research has discovered, too: For example, a study conducted last year found that awe-inspiring experiences make you happier and more creative; furthermore, a 2012 study found that they will expand your perception of time. So not only do you get to have fun, but also, you get to reap positive benefits in your relationships. I'd call that a win-win situation!
What exactly is awe? The Wall Street Journal defines it as "an emotional response to something vast... it challenges and expands our way of seeing the world." The dictionary gives a similar definition, explaining it as being an overwhelming emotion that functions as a response to some sort of grand experience. Experiencing awe isn't as rare as it might sound, either; people on average have three awe-inspired actions per week — and what's more, even though we may think of these experiences as being grandiose, what matters is perceived vastness and accommodation. In layman's terms, this means the experience has to connect us to something we perceive as being greater than ourselves and allow us to expand our mind.
Want to get more awe into your life? Here are five ways you can produce it, with or without your partner:
1. Watch the Sunset or Sunrise
Although this is a bit of a cliche, taking the time out of your day to look at the sun rise or set can allow you to disconnect from the stress of your day. Taking five minutes in the morning or at night to watch the natural beauty of the sun can help to ground you and inspire mindfulness, or living in the moment.
2. Go to a Political Rally
While this may seem counter-intuitive, awe-inspiring experiences aren't one-size-fits-all — and politics can help connect you to the greater world. Obviously, politics often involve a lot of passion; being with others who are equally as passionate as you can help to expand your view of the world. You'll also probably feel good as you do it, since you're helping to make a difference. Stand up for what you believe in!
3. Give Back
Donating your time to a charity or cause that is close to your heart is a great way to experience awe, as it can help to ground you and make you feel good for helping others. Giving back has been linked to a lot of other health and career benefits, so there's basically no downside to volunteering. We all could use some altruism in our lives, so go out there and do some good in the world.
4. Connect With Nature
Most of us spend our days at our desks, followed by nights inside of crowded bars or our tiny little apartments. My point is that we don't spend a whole lot of time in nature, even though doing so is a classic way to experience awe. You could do anything from hiking to biking, or swimming to scuba diving; you might even think about taking up sky diving. Figure out what kinds of activities of the outdoors variety you enjoy and start doing more of them!
5. Go to a Museum
Awe-inspiring experiences can be of the man-made variety, too, so if learning new things is what really helps you to expand your view of the world, I would encourage you to go to a museum! I personally love museums and find that not enough of us take advantage of them. They afford us wonderful opportunities to learn and reflect on a variety of subjects from art to aerospace. Find a museum near you and plan a day to go — it could even be a good idea for a first date.
After you have your experience, make sure to write about it to reap even more benefits. Paul Piff, one of the lead researchers of this study, found that writing about your awe-inspiring experiences can increase your kindness and compassion. There really is no way to lose here, so go out there and be awesome!
Images: Fotolia; Getty Images (5)