Word-Of-the-Week #655: Attention

February 23, 2017 by  

Attention – observation and awareness of one’s surroundings.

Did you find anything awe inspiring last week? Did it spur you to want to get out and experience nature? Would you believe that the feeling of awe actually has proven health benefits?

This is part 2 of Feeling Awe May Be the Secret to Health and Happiness from the Parade article by Paula Spencer Scott. She writes, “For years, only the “big six” emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise) got much scientific attention. “Awe was thought of as the Gucci of the emotion world—cool if you have it, but a luxury item,” says Arizona State University psychologist Michelle Shiota. “But it’s now thought to be a basic part of being human that we all need.”

Here’s what these “wizards of awe” are discovering:

  • Awe binds us together. It’s a likely reason human beings are wired to feel awe, Keltner says: to get us to act in more collaborative ways, ensuring our survival. Facing a great vista—or a starry sky or a cathedral—we realize we’re a small part of something much larger. Our thinking shifts from me to we.

Astronauts feel this in the extreme. They often report an intense, “far out” state of oneness with humanity when looking back at Earth, called the “overview effect,” says David Bryce Yaden, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. Our pale blue dot “looks small against the vastness of space and yet represents all that we hold meaningful,” he says. Call it a wow of astronomical proportions.

2.5 – Average number of times a week people feel awe.

(Photo Courtesy of long time subscriber and friend Bob McCormick who wrote, “Took attached photo from my front deck a few mornings ago.” How’s that for awesome?)

Awe helps us see things in new ways. Unlike, say, fear or excitement, which trip our “fight-or-flight” response, awe puts on the brakes and keeps us still and attentive, says Shiota. This “stop-and-think” phenomenon makes us more receptive to details and new information. No wonder Albert Einstein described feelings of awe as “the source of all true art and science.”

  • Awe makes us nicer—and happier. “Awe causes a kind of Be Here Now that seems to dissolve the self,” says social psychologist Paul Piff of the University of California, Irvine. It makes us act more generously, ethically and fairly.

In one experiment, subjects spent a full minute looking at either an impressive stand of North America’s tallest eucalyptus trees or a plain building. Not surprisingly, the tree-gazers reported higher awe. When a tester “accidentally” dropped pens in front of the subjects, the awestruck ones helped pick up way more than the others.

75% – How much awe is inspired by the natural world.

  • Awe alters our bodies. Awe is the positive emotion that most strongly predicts reduced levels of cytokines, a marker of inflammation that’s linked to depression, according to research from University of Toronto’s Jennifer Stellar. That suggests a possible role in health and healing, and may help explain the raft of recent studies that have linked exposure to nature with lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and more. Researchers even wonder whether a lack of nature and other opportunities for feeling awe might add to the stresses and health damage that come from living in urban blight or poverty.

This week’s focus is paying attention to the awe around you and how it makes you feel. Would you like to be nicer and happier? Would you like to be more receptive to details and new information? Would you like to be as healthy as possible without taking prescription drugs?

Stay tuned – next week 7 Ways to Find Awe in Everyday Life!

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