Experiencing Awe Helps Me Appreciate Life
Finding moments that inspire awe have positive health benefits but also help one appreciate being alive.
Mar 10, 2023
While recently leaving the vet late one night, I saw a bright glow from the corner of my eye. Possibly the first time I glanced at the sky all day; I saw what I thought was two planes on a route for collision. Until it occurred to me, they weren’t moving. Too bright to be stars, they had to be planets. What I later learned was Venus and Jupiter were in conjunction. The sky an ampersand between their two glowing bodies. Even before knowing the full story, I was in awe, captivated by the surprise and the beauty of the night sky.
In “How a Bit of Awe Can Improve Your Health,” Dacher Keltner is quoted as defining awe as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.” Seeing these two planets align across millions of miles while I happened to be alive mundanely leaving the vets office is miraculous. How have so many billions of years aligned themselves to the exact moment that I, a conscious, self-aware being, can look upon the beauty of not only the world but the wider universe with awe and wonder? It’s improbable, yet my precise existence.
One of my favorite astrological theories is John Wheeler’s Participatory Anthropic Principle. The idea is that “no phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon”and an “observers’ consciousness is required to bring the universe into existence.” Some interpretations say the universe has created the environment for human existence so the universe could admire itself like the astrological version of Narcissus. What another vast, awe-inspiring thought. The idea of falling in love with oneself and looking within as if to glimpse another, intangible vastness. I’m frequently overcome by the sheer possibility of these ideas.
I remember learning the biblical definition for “awesome,” “In a strict, literal sense, only God is truly awesome, that is only God is worthy of our awe.” Even as a young teen, I could see the profound inaccuracy of saying, “Oh, that’s awesome,” to just normal, everyday things (which I still frequently do). Because when we’re truly experiencing awe, we’re catching glimpses of god, moments that remind us of our humble place in the universe.
Awe has incredible psychological benefits from the power to slow down heart rate to quiet negative self-talk. It is not only something to be experienced, but it is also something that can be practiced by taking walks in nature, noticing the good in others, or watching a baby being born. Awe is inspired by newness, which forces us to slow down, take in the world, and recognize the immense reality that is being alive.
Moments like catching Venus and Jupiter dancing in the corner of my eye reminds me I want to be frequently overcome with awe. I want to be constantly reminded of this great privilege of being alive.