Awesome is good for health and friendship

Awesome is good for health and friendship

Photo: Filip Put

That jaw-dropping feeling you get when you witness something awesome can actually benefit you in many ways including health and friendship. Through a number of studies, researchers have found that experiencing awe can help form stronger relationship bonds, making people more empathetic, generous and much more humble.

According to studies, experiences that incite awe in us can increase our prosocial behaviour. This has the ability to encourage us to be generous and more humble. The experiences also have the tendency to promote empathy, trust and engagement – again helping our relationships with others.

The Wall Street Journal defined awe as an emotional response to something out of the ordinary. The feeling is caused by witnessing something that challenges our previous views and opens up our minds to new possibilities and thoughts. You could be awed by a beautiful sight in nature, moving music at a concert or watching your favorite team play at a stadium. Awe can be found in grand experiences such as weddings or birth and not-so-elaborate occasions such as a hike in the forest.

Dacher Keltner, director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, has been working with a group of 56 inner-city high-school students to see whether they experience academic benefits from inspiring excursions. The project, which is underway with the help of Sierra Club, took the children on a rafting trip. Initial findings showed that a week after, the students reported being more curious and engaged in world matters.

Another one of Keltner’s research projects found that awe could even help lower inflammation. Over a hundred undergraduate students were asked to rate the frequency of experiencing seven positive emotions – awe was included as one of these. It was found that those who felt the most awe had the lowest amounts of inflammation markers in their saliva. “I think awe could be a great intervention,” says Jennifer Stellar, lead researcher on the study.

Paul Piff, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine, found that even writing about a previous experience that brought of feelings of awe could up a person’s kindness and compassion. His study found that when people watched awe-inspiring nature scenes, they tended to be more generous than those who watched normal videos.

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