Awe is all around us. It is fall’s changing leaves, pink sunsets and snow falling on our faces. It is in big moments like birthdays, baby showers and weddings. It is in generosity between strangers. It is even inside us, bursting in our bodies (which I think of as both hardworking machines and works of art).
Awe is wonder. It’s amazing things. And it’s always available to us, even in dark moments.
Neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall defines awe as “an overwhelming and bewildering sense of connection with a startling universe that is usually far beyond the narrow band of our consciousness.” He calls it our eleventh emotion.
Author and Psych Central contributor Polly Campbell features Pearsall’s description in her latest book How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well, Do Good and Be Happy. In it she notes that awe inspires and awakens us. It opens us to diverse experiences, helps to create meaning and reveals the beauty that’s already present.
“It allows us to sink into the experience of living,” she writes. And it helps us become more grateful and appreciative. According to Campbell, awe helps us to feel connected and alive.
But often we’re too busy or distracted or simply unaware (hello, autopilot) to pay attention to the awe that surrounds us.
In How to Live an Awesome Life Campbell shares simple but profound strategies and insights into cultivating awe in our lives. Below are five suggestions from her book, which focus on all the different areas we find awe — from our environment to ourselves.
Campbell suggests thinking back to the last time you were moved by a beautiful scene. The scene could be anything from a natural landscape to an interaction between two people. Spend two minutes picturing what you saw and what you felt. Think about why this moment touched you so deeply. Sink into the emotions you experience.
As Campbell writes, “This is awe. Now carry it with you into the next moment.”
Focus on your heart.
Take a deep breath. Shift your focus to your heart. Feel your heart beating. Listen to its pulse.
“Imagine that you are looking at it, marveling at its healthy color and strength, and showing it appreciation and love for the job it does 24/7,” Campbell writes. “Notice the awesome that is part of you, the awesome that sustains you and keeps your body and spirit alive.”
Live out your values.
Identify your top five values — what matters to you most. Then pick goals that support these values. “This is a path to awesome living,” Campbell writes. In fact, when we act on our values, we create meaningful, purposeful lives.
This, in turn, “creates a sustainable form of happiness called values-based happiness, according to the work of psychologist Steven Reiss,” she writes. It’s a happiness that stems from the satisfaction we feel when we’re living according to what matters to us.
Create an “awesome” folder.
Have a file folder dedicated to awesome things, such as cards from loved ones, good reviews from work, thank-you emails and inspiring quotes. You can even include stories about positive past experiences, such as giving a great talk or acing a final. Label your file folder “Awesome Stuff.”
Campbell suggests starting with three things. Add to your file monthly. The next time you’re struggling, you can turn to your file and reread the items, “and remember who you already are – awesome.”
Do something awesome for someone else. For instance, Campbell shares these examples: write a love note to your partner; send a check to a food bank; volunteer for Meals on Wheels; and bake cookies for your neighbors. In fact, she suggests putting one random act of kindness on your to-do list every day.
Awe is everywhere. It’s in the big and seemingly small moments of our lives and our world. Pay attention to your surroundings. Savor them. Even driving a car can be an awe-inspiring experience. As Campbell writes, you might “connect to the freedom you feel when you drive through the neighborhood, and then marvel at the engineering behind the vehicle or the feel of the wind in your hair when you drive with the window down.”
Open your eyes to these moments. Hunt for them. As you move about your day, ask yourself: What is awesome right now? What can I savor? Where is awe today?
Sunset photo available from Shutterstock