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Why You Should Find Awe in the Every Day

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Dr. Mirgain discusses awe and how it can affect our well being. Watch the interview


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Dr. Shilagh Mirgain explains how you can have the best year of your life.Madison, Wisconsin - Perhaps it was a summer campout in an area far from the city when you looked up and saw the Northern Lights.


Or that moment of looking down over Chicago from the Sky Deck on the 103rd floor of the Wills Tower (or New York City from the observation deck of the Empire State Building).


There are moments we all encounter in life that change our perspective. They take us from our place in the world and show us something so much bigger than ourselves. They are awe-inspiring and, it turns out, good for our health.


“Awe has many important implications for our well-being,” explains Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, UW Health psychologist. “Experiencing awe can give us a sense of hope and provide a feeling of fulfillment. It can create a desire to work toward the greater good and even help us maintain kindness towards others.”


And it can affect our physical bodies as well. A recent study from the University of California-Berkeley found that participants who experienced more awe-struck moments had the lowest levels of interleukin-6, a marker of inflammation.


What is Awe Inspiring?


Mirgain explains that while everyone will have a different perspective, awe is essentially that “goose-bump” feeling that we get when we come across something so strikingly vast in complexity, scope or number that it alters the way we understand the world and allows us to see things differently.


“It literally shifts our perception,” she comments.

And because it shifts our perception – directing our outlook from our own little place in the world to something vast like the entire universe – it literally forces us to revise our mental models of what is actually possible in the world.


“Awe has been associated with enhanced creativity and wonder, helping us think with greater flexibility and see things in new lights. We start thinking bigger and expansively,” notes Mirgain. “Moments of awe can be part of the driving force behind new technologies and even paradigm-shifting discoveries because we begin to see new possibilities.”


It can also shift our perception of time. In one study researchers found that experiencing awe, brings us to the present moment. As a result, we feel a sense of time’s expanse and are more likely to feel like we have all the time in the world.


Awe in the Every Day


While it’s easy to think of awe occurring in an unanticipated moment, Mirgain points out that awesome experiences are all around us in ordinary daily life. We just need to go out and seek it. Research finds that three-quarters of the time awe is elicited by nature. So get outside, sit by a tree, stand by a lake, gaze at the stars and just get lost in the moment. For her, one particularly memorable moment occurred when hiking through the Grand Canyon.


“The experience permanently expanded my heart and mind,” she shares. “Standing by the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, time slowed and I connected with all the thousands of years of water and air and other elements that it took to create this place. It all seemed interconnected by an intelligent pattern. I had a distinct feeling that the world would be different afterwards as I imagined these same forces helping me carve out my best life path.”


Whether hiking or watching the sunset, taking a moment to step beyond our daily routine to experience the vastness of our world can be all it takes to change our perspective and remind us that the ordinary really can be extraordinary.



Date Published: 04/13/2015

News tag(s):  shilagh a mirgainwellness

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