Have you ever looked up at the sky at night and wondered how many stars there are? Gone on a hike and marvelled at the majestic mountain range? Noticed the shifting colours in a sunset?
That emotion is awe.
Awe is typically characterized by deep feelings of wonder and astonishment. It can be triggered by natural phenomena, artistic expressions, or significant life events, but we can also find it in everyday experiences.
According to Jennifer Stellar, PhD, assistant professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto, awe makes us feel small — or feel a sense of “self-diminishment” in science-speak. And that’s good for us.
“We spend a lot of our time thinking about what’s going on in our world and what’s affecting us directly. Awe changes that, making us see ourselves as a small piece of something larger.”
Awe improves our health, happiness and wellbeing
In our busy lives, we often forget to seek awe actively. But we might be underestimating its power. A growing body of research suggests that experiencing awe may lead to many benefits, from happiness and health to more unexpected benefits such as creativity, a sense of time slowing down and humility.
A study published in 2018 by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley found that awe experiences are linked with a decrease in markers for chronic inflammation (associated with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and bowel diseases) and reduced rumination associated with depression.
The emotion of awe also has a profound impact on our stress levels and mental well-being, calming down our nervous system and stimulating the release of oxytocin, the love hormone that promotes trust and bonding. In fact, in a 2020 study, older adults who took weekly 15-minute “awe walks” for eight weeks reported increased positive emotions and less distress in their daily lives.
Research has repeatedly found that experiencing something extraordinary may make us (and our concerns and responsibilities) feel small in a good way. By becoming less attuned to ourselves and more attuned to the rest of the world, awe helps us re-contextualize ourselves and gives you that sense of being a part of something much bigger than yourself.
Awe can be intentionally cultivated through ritual
You don’t need to visit the Grand Canyon or see a meteor shower to experience awe. You can experience awe at varying intensities and in your own ways — and one of the ways is through rituals and ceremonies.
Think back to a ceremony you were a part of ~ a wedding, a funeral, a birth. Was there a moment in the ceremony where you felt connected to yourself or to those around you? Did you experience a shared moment of awe as you witnessed this powerful moment of change?
We recently shared The Neuroscience of Ritual with you, including how rituals ask us to engage our pre-frontal cortex in order to organize, concentrate and focus on the task at hand and thereby give our brains and bodies a break from any intense emotions that they may be experiencing.
Rituals have the ability to connect us to ourselves, to each other, and to the phenomenal world around us. They also help us tap into the power of awe. Yet, in order for us to notice awe, we need to set the conditions for it to thrive. Here are three simply ways you can start bringing more awe into your life:
Distraction interferes with the potential to experience awe in our everyday life. By learning to practice mindfulness, become present and set our intentions, we open the door to more awe experiences around us.
Write It Down: Think about what you truly need to hear today and write it down in as few words as possible. This intention card can help you feel grounded and prepared for what lies ahead, coming back to it when you steer off course.
Find Your Voice
At its core, a ritual connects. It helps us feel more connected to others and the world around us, as well as appreciate the connection between ourselves, others and the universe. Similarly, awe has a unifying effect, bringing people together in a shared experience. This is why we see communities form when people are in awe of the same things.
Howl! Go somewhere remote and expansive as a group, like in a canyon or in the ocean, and reclaim your voice by howling, roaring, or bellowing into the abyss! Experience the transformative power of being open and vulnerable in community, and open yourself up to a moment of awe.
Celebrate The Invisible
While it’s important to enjoy and celebrate the big milestones in life, it’s equally important to soak in the less visible moments in life, and recognize why this moment matters. Building the habit of seeking invisible moments in life will empower us in finding the small awe moments in life.
Take a Hike: The best way to connect with awe is to notice the world around you. Go for a walk and start to notice what you might have missed before. Look for the seemingly invisible parts of your day-to-day life and acknowledge them in a way that feels meaningful to you.
Spark awe in your life
Awe is all around us — ready to inspire, uplift, and transform. Pay attention, be intentional, and get creative! We invite you to join us as we create space to bring more awe into our lives through rituals and ceremonies. Start a membership with Be Ceremonial and join our Village, where you can learn from others as we seek to become more ceremonial together as a community.
At Be Ceremonial, we are big believers in day-to-day rituals — no pressure, no expectations, just us and our intentions. Download the Be Ceremonial app to choose from our extensive library of secular rituals and create a ceremony to acknowledge both the visible and invisible moments across the life cycle. Simply follow our guided ritual framework to create a ceremony that’s unique and meaningful to you.