Instant Guide

Could 'awe therapy' make us nicer?

Moments that make us feel small — like gazing out over the Grand Canyon or glimpsing the northern lights — can do a world of good for our mental health

A breathtaking view could be just what the doctor ordered. A new study from Stanford University finds that an awe-inspiring experience — or a moment that overwhelms to the point that time seems to stand still — can improve our mental state and make us nicer people overall. What exactly is "awe therapy," and why are perfectly reasonable researchers lending the concept credence? Here, a concise guide:

What kind of experiences are we talking about?
Stanford psychologists say that awe is the emotion we feel when we encounter something so beautiful that it changes our perspective, at least for the moment. That could range from finding yourself entranced underneath the northern lights to gazing out at a perfect sunset over the Pacific to feeling tiny underneath a moonlit sky full of stars

What happened in the study?
Researchers conducted multiple experiments to see if there was a correlation between awe and happiness. Two kinds of videos were shown to participants: The "awe video" showed ordinary people encountering "vast, mentally overwhelming, and seemingly realistic images" like waterfalls, whales, and astronauts in outer space; the "happiness video" showed things like rainbow confetti falling from the air and parades of smiling, joyful people. Other experiments had people recount memories of their own trips or experiences, while another had participants read a story about climbing the Eiffel Tower and imagining what it'd be like to look out over Paris.

What was the effect?
By fixating on the moment, time seemed to slow down, making participants feel like they had more of it to spare. This led them to feel more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to help others. "People increasingly report feeling time-starved, which exacts a toll on health and well-being," says study author Melanie Rudd. The study shows that "being in the present moment elongates time perception," and makes people want to "partake in experiential goods over material ones." In short: Feeling like they had more time seemed to make them better people.

So I have to travel to benefit from awe therapy?
"Awe can be elicited by a walk down memory lane, a brief story, or even a 60-second commercial," says the Independent, so you needn't necessarily book a trip to experience a Hawaiian sunset to reap the benefits. The lesson, researchers add, "underscore[s] the importance and promise of cultivating awe in everyday life."

Sources: Herald Scotland, The Independent, Newser

Recommended

The dawn of the 'Pandemicene'
A body.
Briefing

The dawn of the 'Pandemicene'

Is the pandemic really over?
COVID.
Picture of Joel MathisJoel Mathis

Is the pandemic really over?

Biden tells 60 Minutes COVID-19 is still here but 'the pandemic is over'
Joe Biden, Scott Pelley
Quotables

Biden tells 60 Minutes COVID-19 is still here but 'the pandemic is over'

Child poverty hit record low in U.S. in 2021, Census data show
Janet Yellen
It wasn't all bad

Child poverty hit record low in U.S. in 2021, Census data show

Most Popular

7 toons about DeSantis and Abbott's migrant relocation
Political Cartoon.
Feature

7 toons about DeSantis and Abbott's migrant relocation

New Pacific island forms after underwater volcano erupts
Home Reef Erupts
Speed Reads

New Pacific island forms after underwater volcano erupts

Arizona judge bans abortion statewide by reinstating 1864 law
Pro-choice rally in Tucson
Abortion Fights

Arizona judge bans abortion statewide by reinstating 1864 law