Updated: Jun 20, 2019
When we are children the emotion and feeling of Awe is constantly present as we embark in discovering many of the wonders that nature, the world and just about our everyday life keeps showing to us. We were often struck and surprised by the noise of an airplane and when we looked up at the sky we could see that giant metal “bird” flying through the sky, we let ourselves feel amazed and grateful to see a squirrel go up in a tree or even better when they reach out to us looking for some food.
There were countless opportunities, questions and experiences that were creating our knowledge of the world, and that left in us a sense of awe without knowing what it really was.
When we felt that emotion as children it often inspired in us the sense of curiosity, wanting to know more, wanting to know the story of what we were seeing, we were looking for explanations. Additionally we felt a feeling to take care of nature, animals and be friends with them.
If you were lucky and your parents or caregivers promoted the feeling of surprise, they were immersed with your feeling and they
let themselves return to when they were your age they probably explained you and made up a story of every animal, plant, tree or even leaf that you encounter on your way.
However If you were with an adult that wasn’t patient enough or didn’t have the time to take you outside or to show you nature ..your chances of feeling that awe were reduced and you were deprived of that amazing sensation of community, passion for nature above all, and your compassion probably was not stimulated as it would’ve been.
Why this feeling has such a special and powerful force that makes you want to take care of everything and everyone?
Awe is a cherished and transformative experience that is at the center of many collective processes. Awe is an emotional response to perceptually vast stimuli that defy one’s accustomed frame of reference in some domain. People typically experience awe in response to asocial stimuli like natural wonders, panoramic views, and beautiful art (1). It is claimed that awe produces specific cognitive and behavioral tendencies that enable individuals to fold into collaborative social groups, and engage in collective action. Action within collectives, including collaboration, cooperation, and coaction, requires a diminished emphasis on the self and its interests and a shift to attending to the larger entities one is a part of (e.g., small groups, social collectives, and humanity). Enhanced prosocial tendencies —inclinations to share, care, and assist —further enable individuals to function more effectively within social collectives (1).
If we are by nature social, if we are also worried about others, if we want a higher virtue (2) then why not stimulating more the feeling of awe which triggers our best qualities to help others, which bind us to the best of who we are, and allow us to break those social imposed barriers such as language, religion, nationality, ethnicity, social status, etc.. which were only created to separate us and to be able to obtain what others wanted but not what you really felt doing.
Awe is a feeling that could turn on the flame of compassion inside of us, is a feeling that can make your “self” less important and help you contribute in a community where you can have an impact. Let’s just imagine a situation in a third world country (such as Mexico) were plenty of food, clean water and schools are needed.
Now that you are picturing that scenery imagine that you already are a successful entrepreneur that has a Meeting near of one of these communities, you suddenly pass driving your super luxurious car of course you’re in the back seat and you see a bunch of people on the road performing a “ritual” for the rain in a highway were you can see the crops but you can clearly see that it’s been a while since the rain made its presence.
You shout to your driver, please stop I want to get off and see what these people are doing, the driver and some of your partners in the car tell you …”Are you crazy? We are in the middle of nowhere, we don’t have too much time, and we don’t even know if we can be hurt here” However you’re still amazed by the ritual and the faith of the people doing it, therefore you tell everyone to shut up and they stop the car …you get off, you approach the spot and people where they’re doing the ritual and you are just amazed by everything they are chanting and doing.
In those moments nothing is in your mind, it is just a feeling that probably even made you feel goose bumps, you felt a cold shivering in your back and after that you felt a strong bond with the community, you were able to fusion with the powerful feeling of faith and connection with nature that they’re performing, you even feel like crying and you can’t explain all of these sensations but you know, by curiosity, that you want to know what is happening, you want more details of the ritual.
Suddenly what anyone of “your people” expected and probably no one that was just passing through also expected was that a kind of “miracle” was about to happen …it just started to rain !!.
In that moment your tears that were pulled by your shame probably, to not seem weak, just couldn’t be controlled and you just cried along with the community that was chanting, dancing and filled with joy and happiness.
All this experience that you had, all the feelings, all the sensations in your body and all of the huge need to be part of that event were ignited by your Awe, the curiosity, the bonding, the internal emotional triggers that made you forget about your meeting, about “your people”, about the “danger” … and that just made possible a social, fraternal experience for you that you will never forget was possible just because … a simple feeling was allowed to grow inside of you and of course you were probably primed in your childhood with those values and exposed to the feeling.
After all these passage …the final consequence of the event was that you wanted to invest in that community and you started to promote social work and you felt need and compromise to do more for the people.
Past studies have begun to document the influences of awe on social cognition, effects that can be understood in terms of how awe is based in perceived vastness that challenges one’s normal frame of reference. For example, awe can cause people to feel they have more available time, which can enhance their well-being. . Some experiences of awe may also trigger a sense of uncertainty and motivate people to seek out order—for example, by perceiving intentionality in randomness (1).
Awe has also been associated with a sense that one is a part of something larger than oneself, most typically larger categories such as a community, a culture, the human species, or nature. Shiota and colleagues found that people high in dispositional awe (but not pride or joy) were less likely to define them- selves using individuated terms such as “special” or “one-of-a- kind” and more likely to emphasize their membership in larger categories, for example by describing themselves as “a person” or “an inhabitant of the Earth” (3,6).
Most relevant to our theorizing, awe appears to also trigger an almost metaphorical sense of smallness of the self. In one study, participants who recalled an experience of awe recounted feeling small relative to the environment (4).
Taken together, these studies suggest that awe directs attention to entities vaster than the self and more collective dimensions of personal identity, and reduces the significance the individual attaches to personal concerns and goals. We note, though, that much of this evidence involves narrative data in which the individual recalls salient themes of a past experience of awe (1).
These lines of research on awe, self-categorization, and feelings of smallness indicate that awe can significantly alter the self- concept, in ways that reflect a shift in attention toward larger entities and diminishment of the individual self—a shift that is vital to the collaboration and cooperation required of social groups (1).
In the study of values, self-transcendence values, which emphasize diminished self-importance and increased attention to others and nature, are positively related to prosocial tendencies and empathy; self-enhancement values, which include an increased valuation of power and achievement, correlate negatively with these outcomes (4).
All of these evidence suggests, proves and point us towards the direction of promoting this feeling since childhood where it is at its most natural state, when you have plenty of opportunities to feel it and where it can be cultivated as one of your core values that will trigger other feelings deeply needed in this society that has lost the ability to connect with others in a more physical way, where we need to be able to see nature as our source, where we need to come together as part of communities and be able to let our “self interests” on the side to contribute and generate more opportunities, wisdom, health, love and compassion for every other human being regardless of their background, beliefs, ethnicity, country, religion, etc…
Awe is an emotion. It has been described as a “relatively passive emotion in the face of something perceived as vastly larger or more complex or more powerful”. In this sense, awe like wonder refers to something that takes us by surprise. It describes the way we feel when we see trees being uprooted in a great storm or dew drops glistening like jewels in the early morning sunlight or when we observe the repeated crashing of waves on the shore. But this passive understanding of awe does not convey the full potential of its emotional force. Goleman describes the emotions as an “inner source of energy that affects outer behaviors” Perhaps it was the potential in the emotions to influence behaviour that led Aristotle to stress the need to purify them by means of the arts or to harness them to the pursuit of wisdom and balanced judgement. Certainly he implies there is something cathartic about the experience and release of emotional pressure or inner energy (5).
Children's initial sense of awe and wonder at the differences between birds and their patterns of flight and migration can lead them to an increased sense of responsibility for the natural world. It is people's feelings of awe at the downfall of a great person in tragic drama which make them more receptive to the moral lessons of the tragedy. For believers, it is the feelings of awe in the presence of the divine that make them more receptive to the divine law (5).
The experience of awe can contribute to self-knowledge, to a sense of one's own insignificance and powerlessness, to a grasp of what it is to be human. It may influence one's personal response to the most profound questions about the meaning of life and about the experience of beauty, joy, sadness, love, pain and suffering. Awe provides perspective and a deeper understanding of one's place within the broader scheme of things. It is in this sense that the emotion of awe contributes to spiritual development and spirituality, as Rowan Williams reminds us, touches “every area of human experience, the public and the social, the painful, negative, even pathological byways of the mind, the moral and relational world” (5).
As narrated before in our imaginary (yet real) story of the entrepreneur and his sense of awe when he saw the ritual performed for the rain, we can easily picture ourselves in some of our own experiences when we felt that sensation of surprise together with wonder, which made up the complete emotion of awe and if we make the effort to remember any of our experiences we will be able to detect that in the moment we felt “small” compared to the vastness or meaningfulness that the event had in our perception, as it is stated by research, we also felt “timeless” as if we were able to forget about time, this means that the emotion turn on our “full presence” in the experience that we were living or that we were witnessing, we were not worried for any past or future events, it made us generate positive emotions such as joy, brotherhood or belonging if it was a social experience, or a sense of divine if we experienced it as a part of a nature event that just blowed our mind (figuratively speaking) and made us appreciate, feel gratitude and maybe even release some tears of happiness to be able to experience that particular moment.
If we gather these emotions, if we are able to encourage them more in ourselves, if we sometimes even force to live them again, or if we are just living them again because we have children then ..What do you think that this emotion can be able to accomplish?
Do you believe that .. if schools were more practical and we had more educational systems that promoted art, music, nature experiences (even if they are in a nearby park), and any kind now of digital experience that aid children to transport them to these moments of awe ..Then we would have a more concerned, a more compassionate, more fulfilled, prosocial, pronature, society that would be able to elevate this kind of emotions, learn how to trigger them, understand the implications of helping others while fulfilling their dreams ..Then and just then ..We would be able to break those society patterns, programs and manipulations created to separate us?
We were brought here into this earthly, terrenal dimension to be seekers of our own truths but we a huge touch of divine values such as love, joy, brotherhood, peace, altruism, compassion, wisdom. In our own unique way we have the tools to contribute to the development of a new culture, the development of a new mindset.
Raising awareness and will power to makes us heal each other is the flame we need to ignite, we need to learn how we were as children, how we saw possibility in every action we endeavor, how we saw community in every interaction we experienced, how we saw with AWE every “small detail” that happened to cross our sights, we also were charged with such an amazing power to detect the “unnoticeable” and the best part of all these traits and tools we had (we still have inside of us) is that we pretty much always asked WHY? Such an important question that also needs to be reborn within us to wake us up to our truth, to wake us to understand that we are looking for the same greater good but we are shy (as when we knew an answer in school and we didn’t dare to say it) to say it !! To share it !! To OWN IT !!
In my humble opinion .. I believe that by promoting these kind of emotions, learning how to expand them and allowing a space to cultivate them.. We might be able to turn around what we have lost and destroy with our selfish behaviors based on “ourselves” and pushed to be concerned on your “own business”.
So …If you are that Entrepreneur that has already enough success and economical freedom to expand your business please reflect on the emotion of awe, force yourself to live it ..and hopefully one day you are the protagonist of the story narrated here.
Piff, P. K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D. M., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(6), 883-899.
Ortega D. “How Happy Are You?”. https://www.gen-es.mx/bloggenesmx. June 11th, 2019.
Shiota, M. N., Neufeld, S. L., Yeung, W. H., Moser, S. E., & Perea, E. F. (2011). Feeling good: Autonomic nervous system responding in five positive emotions. Emotion, 11, 1368–1378.
Boer, D., & Fischer, R. (2013). How and when do personal values guide our attitudes and sociality? Explaining cross-cultural variability in attitude-value linkages. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 1113–1147
Halstead *, J. M., & Halstead, A. O. (2004). Awe, tragedy and the human condition. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, 9(2), 163–175.
Campos, B., Shiota, M. N., Keltner, D., Gonzaga, G. C., & Goetz, J. L. (2013). What is shared, what is different? Core relational themes and expressive displays of eight positive emotions. Cognition and Emotion,