I’ve written before on the downstream effects of small any seemingly insignificant acts of goodness. Through our deeply interconnected world, we can never fully appreciate how our actions will impact others and our broader communities.
Recent research being done on the science of awe-inspiring moral behaviour has begun to validate some of these claims. In his latest book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, the psychology professor Dacher Keltner explores the latest science behind the causes and consequences of experiencing awe.
While many of us have experienced these ecstatic and ephemeral moments throughout our lives, Keltner defines awe as a feeling that goes beyond or transcends our current understanding of reality. Whether its gazing out into the horizon on a summers day or marveling at the miracle of a newborn child, awe connects us to something greater than ourselves.
Awe can open up the door to new frontiers allowing us to break through the mold of rigid patterns of thought. Our self-interested preoccupations seem insignificant. Egoistical desires diminish.
Keltner documents the many health benefits of awe ranging from physiological (slows heart rate and deepens breathing) to psychological (reducing negative self-talk).
Although it is common to think of awe being associated with nature or the arts, there is one area of interest in Keltner’s work I want to zero in on – moral beauty. These are actions of selflessness, virtue and goodness. They need not be necessarily heroic acts worthy of ‘news’ per say, but ones which are played out in our day to day lives.
Keltner’s research demonstrated that after surveying individuals in different countries, cultures and religions, acts of moral goodness was one of the main reasons that caused people to feel awe. Acts of kindness such as helping strangers, providing for those in need of financial need or even reading about our spiritual role models all led to more awe.
Witnessing the selflessness of others can provide us with hope and inspire us to take action ourselves. These types of actions remind us that our wellbeing and contentment is not a merely individualistic affair. It is deeply intertwined to the prosperity of our networks and communities. Everyone living in a society relies on the work of others in the broader economy.
We don’t have to wait for moments of awe to arise in our lives. We can pursue awe through purposeful and active engagement in the world.
It begins with cultivating our attention, through relishing in the beauty of both the actions of others and the natural world.
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.John Milton
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