Evidence That It Works
In an experimental study, university students from the United States (75% Caucasian) watched an awe-inducing video that included vast and scenic landscapes and panoramic views of mountains, valleys, forests, trees, and lakes. Participants then completed a survey with multiple measures including feelings of awe, small self, connectedness, and existential isolation (the feeling that no one else shares one’s own subjective experience of the world). The researchers found that feelings of awe, when experienced as vastness, increase connectedness to others and decrease existential isolation, which is linked to depression, suicidal ideation, lower in-group identification, and self-esteem.
Hence, students who experience the “vastness” of a life cycle may feel more connected to others, helping to increase their well-being. This transformation of the self brought about by awe is a powerful antidote to the isolation and loneliness that is epidemic today.
Why Does It Matter?
Stress and anxiety are on the rise for young people, leading to feelings of disconnection and self-focus, and to negative relationships with peers. Awe makes us feel like we’re a small part of something much larger than ourselves. Taking a moment to contemplate a broader view of life can be an awe-inducing experience for many students, shifting their attention away from their small selves and towards their connection to others and to life itself. Indeed, by reducing their focus on their individual concerns and needs, awe helps improve students’ well-being and their relationships with others, which, in turn, can help build positive classrooms and schools.