When we feel awe, we get in touch with something larger than ourselves. For a moment we transcend the challenging circumstances of our lives and the confines of our self-concept. We feel expanded, savoring of the present moment and, perhaps, in touch with a sense of spirituality.
Researchers recently investigated whether awe additionally helps us when we’re feeling at a loss, deprived of something that we possess (Koh, Tong, Yuen 2019). Given that we can perceive possessions as an extension of ourselves, their loss can be painful and even predict impaired mental health. Would awe buffer that?
Three experiments were conducted examining the effect of awe on real and imagined loss in laboratory and natural settings. The results: participants reported feeling less negatively about the loss of a possession when experiencing awe (as induced, for example, by viewing picturesque scenes of people exploring nature).
Each increase in the amount of awe experienced corresponded with less “troubledness” participants felt in relationship to their loss. The buffering effect of awe was significant and separate from the effect of other positive emotions (e.g., happiness, gratitude, contentment or serenity) in coping with loss of personal artefacts.
The findings suggest that the unique positive influence of awe in reducing negative feelings associated with loss may be due to the diminished attention we give to the self when we feel awe.
The self-identification projected onto our possessions may fade in the wake of being awed by something larger or more important than ourselves. Thus, we become less distressed should a possession be lost. This can be helpful in skillfully coping with future loss – that is, after initially registering and grieving the loss, we can choose to then focus on what inspires us, alleviating negative emotional aftermath.
Want to learn about something awe-inspiring?
Check out recent photographs of the legendary black leopard of Africa, last documented 100 years ago.
Check out Nature Connection, an organization founded in 1983 that brings nature to people who are unable to go outdoors. The Massachusetts organization brings nature programs directly to at risk youth and elders and those with disabilities that prevent them from accessing it outside.