We have all known the sensation of wonder and amazement when we experience something “awesome” like a spectacular rainbow. It turns out that ‘awe’- the overwhelming feeling of respect and amazement, often created by something vast and mysterious- is an important emotion with lots of benefits. Sources of awe might be nature, art, music, spirituality, or a demonstration of courage.
Experiencing awe has been well studied in kids and adults and has been shown to increase creativity and curiosity, which fuel learning. Awe increases positive feelings, decreases negative feelings, and helps with emotional regulation and the ability to handle stress. Awe inspiring moments give children stronger feelings of connection and cooperation, especially if shared with others. Family bonds are strengthened by family members witnessing something ‘awesome’ together. Prosocial behavior (behavior that benefits others) has been shown to be more likely after experiencing awe.
In the face of something vast like a starry sky or beautiful ocean, we may feel more humble, understanding how small we really are in the world. This feeling of humility can put our own issues and struggles in perspective and encourage us to think beyond ourselves. This is particularly important now given social media use with its constant attention on us as individuals and how we appear to others.
When nature is the source of wonder, kids tend to feel more comfortable and confident in the outdoors. Nature-inspired awe also can decrease PTSD and overall stress. Feeling awe after doing something brave or challenging can increase a child’s resiliency and ‘grit’.
The benefits of awe have a biologic basis. Research shows that feelings of awe decrease cytokines, chemicals in the body which are related to inflammation, illness, and depression. Awe can also cause the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with love and empathy.
more about The contributor
Dr. Elise Herman
Dr. Herman is passionate about community health outreach, school programs, and child/family health and wellness. She has more than 31 years of experience as a pediatrician in Ellensburg, Washington, the last 3 with KVH Pediatrics. In 2022 Dr. Herman mostly retired from practice and continues to contribute blog posts and remain a visible advocate for kids in the community.