Word-Of-the-Week #924: Awe

April 21, 2022 by  

Awe– an overwhelming feeling of wonder; often inspired by something majestic or powerful.

When was the last time you saw something jaw dropping? How often do you spend time outdoors in nature? Do you remember the last time you felt an electrifying emotion?

Feeling Awe May Be the Secret to Health and Happiness comes from the Parade article by Paula Spencer Scott. She writes, “The hike, in a narrow box canyon, wasn’t going so well. Stacy Bare and his brother were arguing, for one thing. High sandstone walls hid any view, even from the 6-foot-7 Bare. After a second Army deployment, in Iraq, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): drinking too much, suicidal and struggling to find his way forward. What am I doing with my life? What does it mean to be at home, a veteran, anyway? 

The trail led to a ladder. “We climbed up, still shouting at one another,” recalls Bare. “Then we looked up and wham!” 

The towering slabs of Druid Arch rose up, a sunset-hued Stonehenge in the middle of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. The men’s jaws dropped. They laughed. They hugged. What were we even arguing about? Bare recalls thinking. 

They’d been awestruck—altered in an instant by an electrifying emotion that scientists have only recently begun to study. You didn’t see Awe as a character in Pixar’s hit film Inside Out. But new studies show that it’s a dramatic feeling with the power to inspire, heal, change our thinking and bring people together. 


“Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things,” says psychologist Dacher Keltner, who heads the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab. A pioneer in the study of emotions, he helped Facebook create those new “like” button emojis and consulted on Inside Out. 

In 2013, Keltner’s lab kicked off Project Awe, a three-year research project funded by the John Templeton Foundation that has spawned more research on the topic than in the previous three decades. 

You might recognize awe as that spine-tingling feeling you get gazing at the Milky Way. The dumbstruck wonder you feel as your newborn’s hand curls around your pinkie. Niagara Falls! Cirque du Soleil! Fireworks! The Sistine Chapel! The national anthem sung by someone who knows how! 

“People often talk about awe as seeing the Grand Canyon or meeting Nelson Mandela,” Keltner says. “But our studies show it also can be much more accessible—a friend is so generous you’re astounded, or you see a cool pattern of shadows and leaves.”

This week’s focus is finding awe in your life. Do you remember the last time you had an overwhelming feeling of wonder? Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon? Or experienced the beauty of Yosemite? When was the last time you admired a beautiful sunset, a full moon rising, or took time to just look and marvel at the stars?

Stay Tuned…next week Part 2 follow up.

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