Diverse group of adults talking outside.

Discovering Meaning Through Awe

Staff members write about a time they experienced awe, reflect on what this experience revealed about what is most meaningful to them, and consider ways to bring this meaning into their daily lives.

Level: Adult
Duration: ≤ 1 hour
My Notes: Add/Edit Notes

Planning For It

When You Might Use This Practice

  • To motivate and uplift staff members, particularly during stressful times of the year
  • To promote a positive school culture among staff members


Time Required

  • ≤ 1 hour




Learning Objectives

  • Teachers OR School Staff will:
    • Identify and reflect upon an experience of awe
    • Develop a better understanding of what they find meaningful
    • Expand their self-awareness by reflecting on using their passions and what is meaningful to them
    • Make a plan for incorporating more meaning into their work and personal lives


Additional Supports


Character Strengths

  • Purpose
  • Meaning
  • Awe


SEL Competencies

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management


Mindfulness Components

  • Focused attention
  • Open awareness

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • Take 10 minutes of quiet time to think of a moment when you experienced awe, wonder, or amazement. If helpful, refer to the 8 Wonders of Awe poster to see what scientists have discovered generates awe, for example being in nature.
  • Reflect on how this experience of awe made you feel. What emotions did it evoke? What did this experience reveal about what is meaningful to you? How can you bring more of this meaning into your work or personal life?
  • How do you think this practice might be relevant or helpful to your team or staff?


This practice can be done individually or in a group setting with a facilitator. If possible, conduct this practice outdoors for a more engaging and reflective atmosphere.

Reflect on an experience of awe

  • Awe is the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world. Awe can contribute to our own physical and mental well-being, and also help us feel more connected to others.
  • Close your eyes or gently look at a spot on the floor or ground, and think of a time when you felt awe, wonder, or amazement. What happened? Was anyone with you? How did it make you feel?
  • Take 10-15 minutes to write a short paragraph about this experience of awe.
    • If helpful, refer to the 8 Wonders of Awe poster for ideas on experiences of awe, like being in nature, listening to music, or having a spiritual experience.
    • You might describe the situation. How did you feel? Did other emotions emerge such as gratitude, compassion, or love? What were your thoughts? Did your perspective change about your place in the world? Did you feel a connection to something larger than yourself? Feel free to express your experience in drawing.
    • If conducting the practice in a group setting, encourage participants to take 10 minutes to share with a partner (5 minutes each) their reflections about their experiences of awe.

What meaning did it reveal?

  • Next, take 10 minutes to quietly reflect and draw or write on what this experience revealed about what is most meaningful to you.
    • For example, did it show you that you value kindness, humility, forgiveness, justice, or gratitude? Are things such as relationships, family, art, music, or spirituality what you care most about?
  • If conducting this practice in a group setting, encourage participants to take 10 minutes to share with a partner (5 minutes each) their reflections about what is most meaningful to them.

Bringing more meaning to everyday life

  • Finally, reflect and write on how you can bring more of what is meaningful to you into your work with students or staff, or in your personal life. What is one idea that you can implement in the next week?
    • If helpful, refer to this slide or pdf for ideas and contexts for bringing more of what holds meaning for you into your life.
  • If conducting the practice in a group setting, encourage participants to take 5 minutes to share with a partner how they envision using what they find meaningful in the next week.

Optional extension:

  • You might try the Use Your Strengths practice to identify your top strengths/passions and consider further ways to use them.



  • If conducting the practice in a group setting, bring the group together to reflect on the exercise:
    • What surprised you about this practice?
    • What did you discover about yourself?
    • Was this practice helpful in finding new ways of using what you find meaningful?


Grace Rivera, Ph.D, The University of Mississippi, and colleagues
Nansook Park, Ph.D & Christopher Peterson, Ph.D, University of Michigan

Reflection After the Practice

  • If you did this practice on your own, what worked well for you?
  • If you conducted this practice in a group setting:
    • What worked well in facilitating this practice? Were the participants engaged in each step of the practice? What would you keep the same next time?
    • What did not work well? Were there certain parts of the practice the participants felt uncomfortable with? What would you change for the next time you conduct the practice?
    • Did you notice any change in the engagement of participants at your workplace after the practice
    • If so, what changes did you notice? Have participants been able to use what they find most meaningful?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

In a study conducted with more than 500 Chinese adults, researchers found that awe together with a sense of meaning in life resulted in higher levels of well-being and happiness. Moreover, researchers on happiness suggest that finding activities, particularly ones that fit a person’s values and interests, can promote and sustain happiness. Research also highlights that character strengths are linked to well-being, including the pursuit of engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.


Why Does It Matter?

Teachers and other education professionals often experience high levels of stress in their work. Yet, research suggests that when we are aware of our passions and values, we can use them to alleviate stress, helping to cultivate both a thriving life and work experience. In turn, this can help build flourishing educational environments that prioritize the well-being of students and staff alike.

Awe can help raise our awareness about what really matters, eventually leading to more happiness and well-being. Indeed, research conducted with almost 1,700 adults living in the United States, found that experiences of awe were related to finding meaning in life.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
–Eleanor Roosevelt
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