“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein.
The moments that I feel the most imbued with a sense of awe are always the moments when I am outdoors. I can't help but feel a certain sense of wonder - I become almost filled with it.
It doesn't matter what we've experienced, whether it's the breath-taking scope of a mountain-top, the ethereal beauty of the Aurora Borealis, marvelling at a beautiful sunset or the beauty of a damselfly, at some point in our lives we've all had the feeling of being in a complete and overwhelming sense of awe.
I spent a lot of my childhood walking and horse-riding in the Berwyn Mountains. Whenever I return to the hills, I’m struck by how small I am and how insignificant my problems are.
When I am in the mountains, or in the woods, my heart rate slows. Time stands still and I am home.
Awe seems to be a universal emotion and not surprisingly it has been studied by scientists. Psychological scientists Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management devised a way to study this feeling of awe in the laboratory. Across three different experiments, they found that jaw-dropping moments made participants feel like they had more time available and made them more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer time to help others.
The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and wellbeing can be explained by awe's ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down.
Experiences of awe help to bring us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.
Experiencing awe can also make us happier and improve our mental state. It can even make us nicer people. For me some of the most awe-inspiring experiences in my life have been watching my newborn daughters take their first breaths, standing on the top of Ben Nevis and taking in the view, watching the Aurora Borealis in the North Pole, and galloping on horseback across the moors high in the mountains with breath-taking views all around me.
But here’s the best part: you can find it in everyday life. You don’t have to book a trip to the Grand Canyon or head to the top of a mountain to find your special place. You just need to stay in the moment and appreciate what is around you.
Recapture the childlike feelings of wide-eyed excitement, spontaneous appreciation and being full of awe and wonder at this beautiful world that we live in.
Often, when I'm out walking, I like to stop and just focus on one very small area. It's so easy to miss the beauty and intricacies of nature unless we take the time to stop and stare now and again.
“None of your knowledge, your reading, your connections will be of any use here: two legs suffice, and big eyes to see with. Walk alone, across mountains or through forests. You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future: nothing but the cycle of mornings and evenings. Always the same thing to do all day: walk. But the walker who marvels while walking (the blue of the rocks in a July evening light, the silvery green of olive leaves at noon, the violet morning hills) has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child. While walking I am but a simple gaze.” Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking.