Awe: Key to Growth and Understanding

By Amelia Fisher | Published on  

In our journey through life, we often find ourselves seeking closure. It’s a fundamental human need, deeply ingrained in our minds. But have you ever wondered why we crave it so much? Let’s explore this innate desire and how it’s closely linked to the emotions of certainty and fear.

Certainty, that reassuring feeling that we know what’s going on, provides a sense of security. It’s like a warm blanket on a cold night. When we’re certain, we feel like we’re in control, and our brains love that feeling.

Yet, lurking beneath the surface of certainty lies its counterpart – fear. The fear of the unknown, the fear of uncertainty. Our brains, remarkable as they are, have evolved over millions of years to avoid uncertainty at all costs. Why? Because uncertainty used to be a matter of life and death in the wild. If our ancestors couldn’t predict danger accurately, they didn’t survive to pass on their genes.

This need for certainty and the aversion to uncertainty often lead us down different paths. When we’re certain, we feel confident and safe. Our immune systems function optimally, our brains are sharp, and creativity flows. But when certainty is replaced by uncertainty, our bodies and minds react in unexpected ways. Our immune system weakens, our brain cells suffer, and we become more risk-averse.

One interesting thing about fear is that it’s a state of certainty. When we’re afraid, we’re morally judgmental, and our views tend to become more extreme. It’s as if our brains double down on what we know because it feels safer that way.

But here’s the twist – the world around us is constantly changing. To thrive in this ever-evolving landscape, we must learn to adapt. And the first step in that journey isn’t simply moving from point A to point B. It’s about stepping into the unknown, into the abyss of uncertainty.

Our brains, in all their wisdom, gave us a solution – awe. Awe is that profound perceptual experience that leaves us feeling small yet connected to the world. It’s that feeling you get when you witness something breathtaking, something that transcends your understanding.

Awe has the power to shift our perspective, to make us more open to the mysteries of life. It humbles us, making us more willing to embrace uncertainty and step into the unknown. It’s a reminder that there’s so much more to discover and learn.

So, why should we care about this need for closure and our relationship with certainty and fear? Well, think about the conflicts that seem to surround us daily. They often stem from our insistence on being right and proving others wrong. But what if we approached conflict differently?

What if we used awe as a tool to enter conflict with humility, to ask questions instead of providing answers? What if we sought to understand others, to grasp the biases and assumptions that drive their actions? By doing so, we might find that conflict becomes an opportunity for growth rather than a battle of egos.

Awe, with its ability to expand our minds and foster tolerance, could be the key to mitigating anger and hatred in our society. It has the potential to transform the way we interact with each other and the world.

So, as we continue our journey through life, let’s not just reserve awe for the grand moments. Let’s seek the impossible in the everyday, rescale ourselves to find wonder in simplicity. Because in doing so, we may discover that awe isn’t just an emotion; it’s a ladder to uncertainty, a tool for personal growth.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration of our innate need for closure and the role of awe in our lives.

Have you ever felt that overwhelming sense of wonder and amazement? It’s that feeling when you witness something truly extraordinary – perhaps a breathtaking natural landscape, an awe-inspiring performance, or a moment of profound insight. This feeling is awe, and it has a fascinating impact on our brains and behavior.

When we experience awe, something remarkable happens inside our heads. Our brains enter a unique state, where the prefrontal cortex, responsible for our executive functions and attentional control, takes a step back. It’s as if the rational, calculating part of our brain momentarily quiets down.

In contrast, the default mode network (DMN), a network of brain regions associated with daydreaming and creative thinking, becomes more active. This shift in brain activity encourages us to think divergently, to explore new ideas and perspectives. It’s as though the doors of creativity swing wide open.

But that’s not all. Awe also causes a change in the symmetry of brain activity. Activity becomes biased toward the right side of the brain, which is associated with stepping forward, taking action, and embracing the unknown. This bias pushes us to move out of our comfort zones, to explore and experience more.

What’s truly fascinating is that the brain activity patterns of people experiencing awe are highly correlated. This means that researchers can predict whether someone is experiencing awe with a surprising degree of accuracy – up to 83 percent in some cases. It’s as if awe has a signature in our brains, a pattern that scientists can recognize.

So, what does this brain state of awe do to us beyond the neurological level? Well, it turns out that awe has a profound impact on our behavior and emotions. When we’re in a state of awe, we often feel small in the face of something vast and magnificent, yet paradoxically, we also feel deeply connected to the world around us.

This feeling of interconnectedness tends to make us more prosocial. We become more inclined to help others, to show kindness and empathy. It’s as if awe reminds us of our place in the larger scheme of things, making us want to contribute positively to our communities and the world.

But here’s the real kicker – the effects of awe don’t stop when the experience ends. In fact, people who are more prone to experiencing awe are more likely to report positive changes in their behavior after an awe-inspiring event. They redefine themselves and their history, often becoming more open-minded and compassionate.

Imagine the possibilities if we could harness the power of awe intentionally. What if we used awe as a tool to facilitate tolerance and understanding in times of conflict? By inducing awe through art and other means, we might be able to mitigate anger and hatred, making the world a more harmonious place.

So, the next time you find yourself in the presence of something truly astonishing, embrace that feeling of awe. Know that it’s not just a passing emotion; it’s a force that can unlock your creativity, expand your mind, and inspire you to be a better, more compassionate person.

In the realm of human interactions, conflicts are practically inevitable. Whether it’s a disagreement with a colleague, a dispute with a friend, or a clash of opinions with a family member, conflict is part and parcel of life. But what if I told you that awe could hold the key to resolving these conflicts and fostering better understanding?

When we find ourselves in the midst of conflict, it often feels like we’re at opposite ends of the same line. Our goal? To prove that we’re right, and the other person is wrong. It’s a familiar scenario, one where both parties are locked in a battle of conviction.

The problem with this approach is that it rarely leads to genuine learning. Instead of moving forward, we’re stuck, each side digging in deeper. Our brains are wired to win, not necessarily to understand. We want to come out on top, and we’re often willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that victory.

But what if we could shift our perspective? What if we entered conflicts with a different mindset, one that doesn’t prioritize being right but instead seeks to understand? Awe provides us with the tools to do just that.

When we experience awe, we’re humbled by the grandeur of the world. We realize that there’s so much we don’t know, so much beyond our comprehension. This humility, born out of awe, can be a powerful force in conflict resolution. Instead of approaching the conflict with all the answers, we enter with questions.

Picture this: Instead of trying to convince the other person that you’re right, you genuinely seek to understand their perspective. You listen actively, not just to their words, but to the underlying biases and assumptions that drive their behavior. You step into their shoes, trying to see the world through their eyes.

In this new approach, conflict becomes an opportunity for growth and empathy. Instead of locking horns, you open your hearts and minds to one another. You may not always agree, but you start to see the common humanity that binds you, transcending the need to win at all costs.

The beauty of this shift is that it’s not just theoretical. Studies have shown that art-induced awe can facilitate tolerance and reduce anger and hatred. Awe has the power to transform how we engage with conflict, turning it into a platform for understanding and growth.

So, the next time you find yourself in the midst of a disagreement or conflict, remember the power of awe. Step back from the need to be right, and instead, strive to understand. Approach the situation with humility, and you might just find that conflict can be a catalyst for positive change, a path to deeper connections and a more harmonious world.

Life, with all its routines and responsibilities, can often feel ordinary. We wake up, go to work, come home, and repeat. But what if I told you that within this everyday rhythm lies the potential for profound experiences and personal growth? Let’s delve into the idea of finding awe in the mundane and how it can reshape our lives.

Awe, that overwhelming sense of wonder and amazement, is commonly associated with grand moments – the towering mountains, the vast oceans, or the dazzling performances. And while these moments are undeniably awe-inspiring, they are not the only sources of awe in our lives.

In fact, awe can be found in the simplest of things – a blooming flower, a child’s laughter, a quiet moment of reflection. It’s all about rescaling ourselves, shifting our perspective to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. It’s about recognizing that even in the smallest of details, there’s a world of wonder waiting to be explored.

When we learn to find awe in everyday life, we open ourselves up to a world of personal growth and transformation. It’s like discovering hidden treasures in your own backyard. Suddenly, the mundane becomes an adventure, and the ordinary takes on new dimensions.

Imagine this: You start your day with a fresh perspective, noticing the intricate patterns of dewdrops on a leaf, or the way sunlight filters through the branches of a tree. These seemingly small moments of awe can have a profound impact on your well-being.

Awe has the power to spark creativity, to make you more open to new ideas and possibilities. It reminds you that there’s always something more to explore, even in the most familiar of places. It encourages you to embrace uncertainty, to step into the unknown with curiosity and courage.

But finding awe in the everyday is not just about personal growth; it’s also about building connections. When you share moments of awe with others, whether it’s watching a beautiful sunset or marveling at a work of art, you create bonds that go beyond words. Awe has the unique ability to bring people together, to bridge gaps and foster a sense of unity.

So, how can you start finding awe in your daily life? It’s simpler than you might think. Begin by paying attention to the small moments, the details you often overlook. Take a moment to truly savor your morning coffee, to marvel at the colors of the sky during sunset, or to listen to the laughter of children at play.

Practice mindfulness, be present in the moment, and allow yourself to be captivated by the beauty around you. Share these moments with others, whether it’s through conversation, art, or simply being present together.

Incorporate awe into your daily routine, and you’ll find that life takes on a richer, more vibrant hue. The ordinary becomes extraordinary, and personal growth becomes a continuous journey of discovery. So, as you go about your day, remember to rescale yourself and find awe in the everyday – it might just be the key to a more fulfilling life.

In our journey through the intricacies of awe, we’ve uncovered a remarkable tapestry of human experience. From the innate need for closure to the profound impact of awe on our brains and behavior, and even its potential as a tool for conflict resolution, we’ve seen that awe is not just an emotion; it’s a force that shapes our lives in unexpected ways.

Awe, with its ability to humble us and make us more prosocial, offers us a powerful lens through which we can view the world. It invites us to step into the unknown with curiosity, to embrace uncertainty, and to seek understanding rather than dominance in our interactions.

But perhaps one of the most transformative aspects of awe is its capacity to be found in the everyday. It teaches us to rescale ourselves, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, and to savor the beauty that surrounds us, often unnoticed.

As we conclude this exploration, I invite you to carry the essence of awe with you in your daily life. Let it be a compass that guides you towards personal growth, creativity, and deeper connections with others. Embrace the small moments of wonder, share them with those around you, and watch as your world becomes more vibrant and fulfilling.

In awe, we find not only a source of inspiration but also a pathway to a richer, more harmonious existence. So, go forth with open eyes and an open heart, and may awe be your constant companion on the journey of life.