Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Cultivating Awe

Negative emotions tend to be self-focused and have an adverse impact on aging and longevity.  Awe is a positive emotion triggered by an awareness of something that is bigger than oneself and not fully understood such as nature, music, art, or participation in a collective experience, such as a ceremony or protest. 

Researchers asked 60 participants to take a weekly outdoor 15-minute walk.  Half were randomly assigned to the control group.  The other half were primed to acknowledge awe when researchers described the emotion and suggested these participants make an effort to experience awe during their walks.  Participants rated their emotional experiences, and on the walks, they took selfies. 

At the end of the 8-week awe walk intervention, when compared to the control group, researchers found that the awe-inspired participants reported more joy, positive emotions, and increased smile intensity during their walks than the control participants.  The control group walkers were more self-focused, thinking about upcoming life events, during their walks. 

The awe group experienced a growing sense of wonder and appreciation.  Their photos demonstrated a visible shift to reduce themselves in the shots, in order to maximize their natural surroundings.  A key feature of awe is that it promotes the small self, a healthy sense of proportion between you and the greater world around you.  The awe group also experienced a daily improvement in positive emotions such as gratitude and compassion.

Takeaway: Cultivating awe requires a mindful shift in our perspective that can enhance positive emotions and well-being.

Sources

UCSF, ‘Awe Walks; Boost Emotional Well-being, Neuroscience News, Sept 21, 2020, https://neurosciencenews.com/awe-walk-emotional-wellbeing-17063/

Sturm, V. E., Datta, S., Roy, A. R. K., Sible, I. J., Kosik, E. L., Veziris, C. R., Chow, T. E., Morris, N. A., Neuhaus, J., Kramer, J. H., Miller, B. L., Holley, S. R., & Keltner, D., Big smile, small self: Awe walks promote prosocial positive emotions in older adultsEmotion, 2020, https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Femo0000876

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