Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX
If you’re an Eighties kid like me, when you hear the word “awesome”, your mind immediately conjures up Spiccoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High ordering pizza in Mr. Hand’s class. Or maybe Ninja Turtles. The use of the word, “awesome”, has fallen out of favor not just as a surfer term of approval, but also as an adjective. When was the last time you described something non-ironically awesome? It’s been too long!
The emotion of awe can be slippery to define. It exists somewhere between fear and pleasure. It is comparable to wonder, but less joyful. It can produce reverence or admiration. Sometimes, it takes your breath away. Awe can cause us to momentarily transcend our daily life, or even reorient our concept of self and our place in the world. Rabbi Heschel, the great teacher, said, “Awe is itself an act of insight into a meaning greater than ourselves.” Awe, like all meaning-making experiences, can lead you to ask more questions. You want to know more, to understand more.
We’ve all experienced something grand and elaborate that we would consider awe-inspiring: A glittering galaxy in the night sky, a soaring eagle, an exquisite symphony, a perfectly executed triple play, an overwhelming feeling of love, or the perfect equation.
But awe is not just in the grand gestures in life. It can also be found in the small things – children playing together, your dog curled up beside you on the sofa, watching someone help a stranger, or a favorite song on the radio that brings back memories.
Dacher Keltner, the director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, says, “Seek out experiences that give you goosebumps.” Researchers have found that replaying moments of awe in our minds – large and small – can bring about positive feelings and lower stress for days after the event. Recent studies have also discovered compelling connections between the experience of awe and well-being, including enhanced critical and creative thinking faculties, improved health, an increased sense of community and an increase in pro-social behaviors such as kindness, self-sacrifice, co-operation and resource-sharing.
Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
So open your eyes to awe. Being mindful and consciously slowing down to savor experiences will increase the likelihood of noticing all of the awesome stuff around you. And who knows? You may just find yourself murmuring “awesome, dude” with absolutely no eye-rolling involved.