If you’re struggling with feelings of gloom or stress, staring up at the night sky might sound like an odd solution.
Yet a handful of recent studies have found a link between experiencing a sense of awe — that feeling you get when you look up at a starry sky or out across a wide open valley — with feeling less stressed and more satisfied.
So what is it about awe that’s so, well, awesome?
For starters, people who frequently experience awe tend to have lower levels of a substance that’s been linked with stress and poor health.
As part of a recent two-part study at the University of California, Berkeley, students filled out a questionnaire describing their feelings over the past month and submitted samples of their saliva to test for a substance linked with stress in the body. The students who said they’d recently experienced feelings of awe were more likely than students who hadn’t to have lower levels of the stress-linked substance (called interleukin-6) in their spit.
In fact, the more often a student said they’d experienced awe in the past month, the lower his or her levels of the substance tended to be (More on the details of the study and its findings here).
Awe has also been linked with increased acts of kindness and generosity.
Another study from the same university found that volunteers who’d spent a minute staring up at a grove of towering trees were more likely to help a stranger than those who spent the same minute looking at a building. (More details on that study here).
Similarly, a small 2012 study found that when people were shown something new and awe-inspiring — even if they were simply recalling a past experience or reading about someone else’s — they were more willing to volunteer their time to help others compared with people who were shown something that made them feel happy.
Awe might change how we perceive time.
In another part of the 2012 study described above, people who were shown something awe-inspiring were also more likely to say they felt like they had more time and to strongly agree with the statement that “Time is expanded.”
How does awe do all of this?
Simply put, awe makes us feel like we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. By getting us out of our own heads, awe-inspiring experiences encourage us to look at the world inquisitively and feel more at-ease.
So go on a hike or check out the stars on a clear night.
It will be awesome. We promise.
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