Experiencing Awe Improves Well-Being and Personal Awesomeness

Experiencing Awe Improves Well-Being and Personal Awesomeness

Experiencing awesome things can make you more awesome, according to a recently published study. More scientifically, standing at the rim

Experiencing awesome things can make you more awesome, according to a recently published study. More scientifically, standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon can change your perception of time, make you less materialistic, and alter your understanding of the world, according to a recent study. So can going backpacking in the Tetons, or climbing El Cap, or kayaking a big river, or any other method of experiencing perceptual vastness. Awe is often experienced in nature, or when we encounter things we think are unfathomable.

The study, to be published in Psychological Science, examined what happened when test subjects experienced feelings of awe — which is different than happiness. Awe, according to research, has two features: Perceptual vastness, or the understanding that a person has come upon “something immense in size, number, scope, complexity or social bearing,” and the stimulation of a need for accommodation, meaning it “alters one’s understanding of the world.”

Researchers from business schools at Stanford and the University of Minnesota conducted a series of experiments to determine what happens when we experience awe, compared to a feeling of happiness. The findings:

“[The experiments] showed that awe, relative to happiness, engenders a perception that time is plentiful, curbs impatience, and inspires a desire to volunteer time. These outcomes have been related to well-being, suggesting life satisfaction itself might be affected by awe.”

“Eliciting a feeling of awe, versus a neutral state, increased perceived time availability, which in turn led participants to more strongly prefer experiential over material goods and view their lives as more satisfying. [The experiments] also found evidence of mediation: Greater perceived time availability mediated awe’s effect on momentary life satisfaction and participants’ choice of experiential (over material) products.”

Also interesting: Although awe increased participants’ willingness to donate time, it did not increase their overall generosity, or willingness to donate money. But still, they were more awesome.

Photo of the Grand Canyon by Shutterstock

Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
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Showing 3 comments
  • Matt Minich

    It looks like the “awe” was inspired in test subjects by an LCD television commercial? Looks like the real purpose of the study was to examie the effect of awe-inspiring commercials on consumers. It’s actally sort of bothersome to me that companies are looking into this.

  • Kim Kircher

    The concept of having “enough time” is intriguing. It is all too easy to fritter away time (especially online and engaging with our virtual friends). And yet according to this sturdy, nature produces awe which in turn gives us a sense of having more time available to us. This is why spending time outdoors is the perfect antidote to a too much time in front of a computer. In fact, we should all aim to spend as much time outdoors as we do online. If anyone gets a grant to study that, I’m available as a lab rat.

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