Awe Makes Us Feel Small—Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing

To decrease self-centeredness, increase experiences of awe.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

We’ve all experienced awe—that feeling of having your breath taken away when you look up at the night sky swirling with stars.

According to a recent article in Greater Good Magazine, awe brings people together by diminishing our sense of self-importance. By showing us things much larger than ourselves, these experiences challenge our understanding of our place in the world.

A new study conducted by an international team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, uncovered an evolutionary purpose to awe. Yang Bai, one of the paper’s authors, explained to Greater Good Magazine that awe helps individuals stop focusing so much on themselves and instead consider the things and people around them.

The researchers gathered participants from China and the United States and had them fill out daily journal entries, where they had to write about experiences of awe, experiences of joy if they hadn’t felt awe, or something different they wanted to share if they did not experience awe or joy that day. Then they would select a circle that was most aligned with their sense of self from a series of circles of various size. This was meant to be a measure of “self-size.”

As reported in Greater Good Magazine, researchers found that the more awe people felt, the smaller they reportedly felt. Groups reported a smaller self-size after experiences of awe over experiences of joy.

Second, participants were randomly assigned to either watch a nature video meant to evoke awe or a funny nature video. All participants’ questionnaires showed that awe videos evoked smaller sense-of-self ratings. After watching awe videos, Chinese participants drew diagrams that indicated that they felt closer to those in their social networks, and American participants drew diagrams that indicated that they felt they had more social connections.

“While we’re feeling small in an awe moment, we are feeling connected to more people or feeling closer to others,” Bai told Greater Good Magazine. “That’s awe’s purpose, or at least one of its purposes.”

You can find the full article here

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