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We may not think much about the concept of awe. When we do, though, we likely associate it with grand works of nature, like the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest, or incredible displays of power, such as lightning strikes or hurricanes. Or we may associate awe with magnificent works of art or jaw-dropping acts of compassion or skill. Of course, the stimuli of the experience we know as awe are varied, and they are not all as grand or stunning as these examples. 

Experts note that the feeling of awe can be stimulated by vastness that is difficult to comprehend, challenges to what we have thought or assumed, and exceptional acts of human virtue and ability. We can be awestruck while walking in nature, observing an act of kindness, or hearing a new piece of music.  

While experiencing awe can be surprising and delightful, it also holds significant benefits for our mental and emotional health. Researchers describe awe as an emotion like joy, contentment, and love, but it is separate from each of these. Experiencing awe has been shown to reduce anxiety, calm the nervous system, and increase our ability to cope with stress. Experiencing awe stimulates the release of oxytocin, often called the “love hormone.” 

Importantly, experiencing awe does not have to be expensive. Nor does it require travel to a far-off place or demand extra time and planning. We can make awe-filled experiences, and their associated benefits, a frequent presence in our lives. Here are five common circumstances in which we can discover and experience awe: 

  • We are fully present. Our attention is completely given to what is happening, free from distractions.  
  • We notice and are open to what is happening around us. Awe can be experienced in almost any place if we just look for and notice it in our surroundings. 
  • We look for the goodness in others. People engage in awe-inspiring behaviors more frequently than we may assume. Common people do uncommon things for other people far more often than is noticed.  
  • We expose ourselves to art, music, science, and other experiences that stimulate our emotions, offer astonishing surprises, and capture our imagination. 
  • We try something new and unfamiliar. First-time experiences can expose us to new thinking and novel ideas, expose us to opportunities, and open doors of possibility and surprise.  

Awe can also be a powerful tool for stimulating learning to which students will commit and long remember. Consider how awe might be a part of the learning we offer to students: 

  • What concepts in math, science, or other subjects might we use to challenge the assumptions and beliefs students bring with them? 
  • What stories of compassion, kindness, and sacrifice might stimulate an interest in and growing commitment to an upcoming topic of study?  
  • How might art, music, or dance provide a unique perspective on a learning challenge or social problem?  
  • How might we tap the wonders of nature to illustrate the vastness of the universe and the intricacy of a blooming flower?  
  • How might we inspire awe as our students observe the power of relationships and valuing of each other? 

Use your imagination to add to this list and create awe in the learning experiences of your students. It’s totally worth it!

Thought for the Week

By lessening separation and fostering connections, we can create a space in which every student feels accepted, understood, respected, and empowered to succeed.

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