How Having Your Breath Taken Away Benefits Your Health
A dear friend recently went to see Barbra Streisand in concert. The occasion was a momentous one for her.
Streisand’s music has been the score to her life drama for thirty years. A Streisand concert was on her bucket list and she was well aware that with the infrequency of Streisand performances, it could easily be a list item that went unfulfilled.
The concert was not a disappointment. From the moment that Streisand took the stage, my friend fell into a state of awe that was deeply moving, resonating within her psyche in a way she had not felt before.
When my friend described the moment to others, she was met with varying responses. Some brushed off the experience as a “good concert,” others thought it was strange that she was so deeply moved, while one even told my friend that this was an indication that her life had little meaning. After all, if her daily existence was filled with more meaningful moments, a concert would not bring her to a state of tearful joyous exhilaration.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
The Psychology of Awe
In fact, research supports the theory that moments of awe are an important component to maintain psychological well-being. We live in a world that encourages a fast paced existence. We reward “the movers and the shakers,” not the folks who stop to smell the roses.
Clichés aside, the expectation for today’s adult is that we will remain “ever-accessible” to handle the problems at work, at school and at home. There is virtually no time to stop and look around, to seek those moments of awe which recharge our psychological self and give us perspective on where we stand in relation to the world.
There are moments in each person’s life which leave an indelible imprint that changes the perspective of existence forever.
We can be thankful that there are important moments that we set aside in our lives to appreciate the awe-inspiring aspects of life. Many of us construct vacations and bucket lists specifically to address our intrinsic need to ground ourselves in the inspiration life on this planet can bring.
Last year, my family visited the Grand Canyon, an undoubtedly awe-inspiring natural wonder. It wasn’t my first trip to the Grand Canyon, and yet, the awesomeness of the view was even more powerful than it was during my visit as a child.
Maybe my psyche just needed it more.
Not all awe-inspiring moments come from nature. There are moments in each person’s life which leave an indelible imprint that changes the perspective of existence forever.
Take, for example, the moment we look into our newborn’s face for the first time. It’s not a surprise. It’s typically been a highly anticipated and hopefully prepared for occasion. But until an individual has lived through the moment, it is impossible to explain the shift that occurs in purpose, understanding and connectedness with the world.
It is a moment of awe that is at once bigger than, yet coming from within us.
How Moments of Awe Affects Your Brain
Research has given substance to the idea that awe-inspiring moments provide us with positive experiences that are healthy and important to our well-being.
The moment of awe is released by both neurotransmitters and endorphins which serve as a sort of pause or reset in our life. Much like the idea that “laughter is the best medicine,” moments of awe wash our brains with positivity, boosting our health and giving us hope.
So what can we do to increase these moments within our life?
Obviously, there are those moments that we can plan. We can attend an IMAX cinema that envelops us in the world of the humpback whale or takes us to the Egyptian pyramids. We can visit the Everglades, Grand Canyon or the Great Wall of China. Locations like these are awe inspiring in that they give us the perspective of how infinitesimal we are in comparison to so much within the world around us.
The moment of awe is released by both neurotransmitters and endorphins which serve as a sort of pause or reset in our life.
In other words, we can look to the “big” to create those awe inspiring moments.
But for accessibility purposes, it is often “the small” that we overlook and in passing, we miss the awe moments. Many of these moments are available compliments of Mother Nature. It is virtually impossible to not find awe in a group of newborn bunnies in a tuft of underbrush, stopping to really appreciate the growth of a garden, or hummingbirds.
It is not only the natural environment that provides these moments. While a visit to the Louvre may not tickle everyone’s fancy, it is a source of awe for many. From skyscrapers to finger-paintings, there are sources all-around us if we take the time to seek them out.
What do all of these things have in common?
What is the common denominator for sources of awe? Like my friend at the Barbara Streisand concert, they are points during which we find a connectedness that is at once profoundly personal while being potentially universal. They are moments in time in which the world falls away and everything that we experience is in that moment.
Our senses become completely focused on the experience, and our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves merge to take in the awe. Wonderfully, our brains do release those neurotransmitters and endorphins that heighten the experience and provide us with an emotional memory, even if the exact colors of the sunset over the Riviera do not remain indelibly imprinted in our minds.
It may be possible that some people go through life without ever experiencing an awe moment.
They may be simply too distracted in the physical or emotional strains and stresses to have the capacity to stop and allow themselves the release. They may not have the ability to visit those specific locales that time and time again inspire. Or perhaps they simply do not have that reactive neurotransmitter release that heightens the moment into the state of awe.
Regardless of the reason, to dismiss another’s state of awe as indicative of an impoverished life is truly ironic; for to live without awe is like living without spirit.
Image by Sleepyjeanie