Awe and wonder are common in children.
Everything they see is through new eyes.
As we get older, we lose that freshness of sight. We may even experience social disconnection, more anxiety, and sadness. And these feelings were exacerbated through the pandemic. These negative emotions affect our quality of life. They also affect our longevity or quantity of life.
A study published in the journal Emotion measured the positive effect of an attitude of awe and wonder on older adults. In this study one group was asked to take awe walks. During these ‘awe walks’ individuals oriented themselves towards experiencing awe. They focused on things outside of themselves. Those taking part reported reduced daily distress and more positive emotions.
Neuroplasticity facilitates the brain in rewiring or creating new connections between cells. This allows the brain to adapt to changing circumstances. Dr. Marian Rojas Estapé in her book, How to Make Good Things Happen: Know Your Brain, Enhance Your Life talks about the importance of focused attention. A lack of focused attention can cause us to be overwhelmed and stressed out by the stimuli that comes at us all day long. Being able to pick out and focus on what is important helps us reduce distress.
Focused attention can help you concentrate on the positive in your life. This has a significant positive impact on your brain.
Taking an awe walk is a great way to train your attention to focus on the positive things around you.
Chesterton was a Proponent of Awe
An individual who exemplified an attitude of awe was Gilbert Keith Chesterton.
Chesterton was a journalist in the early part of the 20th century. He wrote hundreds of books and thousands of essays for the London newspapers.
Gilbert was a big man in every sense of the word, standing at 6 feet 4 inches and weighing over 300 pounds. His curiosity about the world made him a big proponent in finding awe and wonder in it. The importance of imagination was integral to his approach to the world and played a big part in his enjoyment of it. In describing the importance of imagination he said:
“I mean the power to turn our imaginations inwards, on the things we already have, and to make those things live. It is not merely seeking new experiences, which rapidly become old experiences. It is really learning how to experience our experiences. It is learning how to enjoy our enjoyments.”
His biographer Dale Ahlquist commented that Chesterton took, “a fierce pleasure in things being themselves.”
He lived life full of awe and wonder. And therefore, the most compelling thing about him was that he was full of joy.
Take An Awe Walk
If you are interested in incorporating an ‘awe walk’ into your day, I recommend taking along a Chesterton viewpoint and experience your experiences.
Here are some ideas on how to make that happen.
First, find a new place to walk. This will make it easy to notice new things around yourself as you walk.
Secondly, focus on the ‘big things’ like the height of the trees, the clouds floating overhead or the vastness of the sky. Note the immensity of things and feel your smallness. This helps you to get outside of yourself and lose yourself in the wonder of the world around you.
Finally, look at the intricate details of things. Examine the veins in a leaf, the corrugated roughness of tree bark, the iridescent colours of an insect. Get up close to a blade of grass or the petal of a flower. Take time to notice their intricate structure.
Savour the moment. Make yourself experience it fully. Use all your senses. Smell the air, touch the bark of the tree. Really focus your attention on what is before you.
Nurture Your Sense of Awe
Breathe deeply and let your senses be subsumed into the wonder of what you see. Nurture a sense of awe as you take in the complexity of the world around you. Notice how that sense of awe brings you peace.
If you are finding it challenging to find awe in your surroundings walk at a different time, like the evening or at sunrise. The world will look different under moonlight. As well, there is a freshness to early morning that is only experienced then. Vary the times of your awe walk to take advantage of the effect light has on what you are seeing. But most importantly enjoy your surroundings.
Cultivate wonder and awe – it will not only add length to your years but life to them as well.