Friday 9 August 2013

When feeling small is a good thing

Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you feel totally and utterly overwhelmed by the sheer amazingness and wonder of something? When suddenly, the world and all its wonder feels so big and you but a small but equally amazing part of it? Where you just think: "wow".

You could be standing looking over the grand canyon, feeling the spray of Iguazu falls on your face, marvelling at a newborn baby or simply watching the sunset from the bottom of your garden. Or watching your husband sleep. Or your child walk for the first time.

It doesn't matter what it is, how big or small. We're all different. But whatever it is, it makes you sigh and think: "wow". It moves you. Maybe even to tears. It makes you really feel. Feel so much you might just burst. It makes your heart sing so loud you can't understand why nobody else can hear it. You feel elevated. Uplifted.

But not in a frantic, excited sort of way. Instead all this in a calm, content, peaceful sort of way.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call 'awe'. Real, proper awe. Not the every day overused 'awe' that crops up every time anybody proclaims something as 'awesome'.

And awe, is good news.

Really good news.

Awe is a big old feeling. A really big positive feeling. It warms the vagus nerve and produces oxytocin, both super stuff for our happiness levels.

But awe is so much more than that...awe actually really is quite awesome.

Awe has this amazing power of making you feel like you have all the time in the world, so you're more likely to slow down and be more can't really experience awe unless you're really present in that moment. Studies have shown that you're also more likely, given you now feel you have more time on your hands, to donate that time to other people, to use it kindly.

When we experience awe, we feel somehow more connected. It doesn't matter what to, connection is a good thing to feel. And awe is such a huge feeling, we feel connected to and a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

And given that awe makes us take stock of the bigger, wider, wonderful world out there beyond our own little brains, it has the ability to take our minds off our own issues, the minutiae of our day to day lives and to put things in context a little bit. It encourages us to literally look up and out.

Now, I won't claim to know what you're thinking, but if I were reading this I'd be thinking "wow, that's all really great stuff. Except what on earth am I supposed to do with it? I can't be jetting off to Niagara and the hanging gardens of Babylon every five seconds to recreate this whole 'awe' thing. So thanks for that".

The point of this here blog is to find ways we can use what we know from the science of happiness to help us get more of it, more often in our every day lives. And we can do the same with what we know about awe.

Firstly, we can trick our brain into getting similar feelings, especially good for the getting out of our own brains part.  Go outside, preferably into a park or field and let your eyes drift upwards. Then let you eyes go slack and soften your focus so you're using your peripheral vision (ie you can now see out to the sides as well as just forward, albeit a bit blurry. Your field of vision is enlarged).  You are now, literally, looking up and out. And it should have the effect of making you feel really rather small in the grand old scheme of life, thereby putting what's going on inside your head into context. If nothing else it's good for a bit of headspace and fresh air.

But what about the real 'awe' stuff.

It's all about getting to know yourself and diary management again.

Work out what it is that uplifts and inspires you. Write a list. Notice every time it happens and write it down. Mine are pretty much anything to do with nature and if you scroll back through my blog you can find post after post eulogising about the beauties of conkers, the awesomness of Autumn, the simple but highly effective pleasures I get just from walking through the park. Or hearing parakeets tweeting outside my window. Or watching the sun go down, wherever I am, with my husband.

Once you know where your little (and your big) uplifts come from, do everything you can to squeeze more of them into your life. Scrub that - into your day. And when they happen, do everything you can to squeeze even more out of them.  How can you make that thing you love even more awesome? How can you enhance that feeling, lift up that uplift even higher?

The simple adage, work out what makes you happy and do more of it, remains true here

It's true that the word 'happiness' comes from the 'hap' stem and therefore has connotations of spontaneity.

And it's true that the type of happiness you simply stumble upon is often the best, but that's not to diminish

the rest.  Just because I've eaten lobster doesn't mean I don't still enjoy cod and fact not so long ago I experienced a moment of awe sat eating fish and chips out of the wrapper, gazing out at the vast sea beyond just as dusk was falling, the wind whipping my hair around my face and the seagulls circling. Just then, with the salty batter on my lips and the sweet tangy bubbles of shandy to wash it down, I thought to myself: "wow". Just, "wow".

So go find your wow, and then work out how to get it as much as you possibly can.

But in the meantime, try one of these


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