I remember when I was small, a section of our back steps grew moss on the ground underneath it. There really wasn’t any other moss in the garden and I was fascinated with how soft it was, and different to the other plants and grass in the garden. Why was it there and nowhere else? What was moss anyway? I was entertained for hours and regularly went to check on the moss patch (how awesome was my childhood?!).
That sense of awe and wonder is something I believe is important to maintain and cultivate throughout our lives. Awe is described as an overwhelming sense of admiration and reverence over things that are outside of our understanding of the world.
A 2015 study found that developing our sense of wonder has huge benefits, to ourselves and to our communities as a whole. Researchers found:
Our investigation indicates that awe, although often fleeting and hard to describe, serves a vital social function. By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others. When experiencing awe, you may not, egocentrically speaking, feel like you’re at the center of the world anymore. By shifting attention toward larger entities and diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, we reasoned that awe would trigger tendencies to engage in prosocial behaviors that may be costly for you but that benefit and help others.
Across all these different elicitors of awe, we found the same sorts of effects—people felt smaller, less self-important, and behaved in a more prosocial fashion. Might awe cause people to become more invested in the greater good, giving more to charity, volunteering to help others, or doing more to lessen their impact on the environment? Our research would suggest that the answer is yes.
How exciting is that?
So how are you going to cultivate your sense of wonder? There are big experiences like seeing the Great Barrier Reef or Taj Mahal, but there are also everyday experiences – the changing of nature with the seasons, the bird building its nest, ants carrying their loads. Nature, art, music, and our built enviroment all provide opportunities to develop our sense of wonder. Stop rushing, start observing. Remember you live in a beautiful, amazing world.
Oh, and I still love checking out moss and lichen (image from my backyard!)
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