31 DAYS OF NATURE (PART THREE)

When was the last time you felt a sense of awe? A genuine, sober feeling of respect, fear, and wonderment that has an immediate effect on your perception of the world.

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Were you having a picnic by a waterfall? Watching a sleeping child? Preparing a good meal in your kitchen? Holding onto a loved one? Walking through an art gallery? Listening to a musician sing above the chatter in a coffee shop?

My most memorable moments of awe have happened outside. Running on a trail. Wading across creeks. Digging in a garden. Staring at the widescreen scope of skyline above an ocean…

That’s probably why I started crying when I discovered this short film a few days ago:

This month I’ve rekindled my search for awe during my #31daysofnature challenge. As I’ve been taken aback by these moments, I started thinking more about how powerful wonderment can be, which led me to a little research.

This is what the research says:

  • In 2012, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Minnesota found that feeling a sense of awe can alter an individual’s perception of time. In addition to feeling more patient, participants were more willing to volunteer to help others, preferred experiences over commodities, and an overall increase in life satisfaction.
  • In 2015, UC Berkeley researchers published a study suggesting that positive emotions such as awe, compassion, and joy are related to the body’s level of cytokines. Cytokines are proteins responsible for signaling the immune system to fight infection, disease, and trauma. However, “sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health” and may correlate with disorders such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and depression. The study found that of the 200 participants, those who experienced more positive emotions had lower levels of cytokines and thus lower risk of certain disorders.
  • The American Psychological Association also published a study in 2015 covering five different experiments centered around human reactions when experiencing awe. They concluded that individuals who experience awe regularly showed more generosity, helpfulness, compassion, and ethicality. They also concluded these individuals experience a decrease in entitlement and increase in altruism.

That research pretty much sums up what I’ve been striving to do:

  • Slow down
  • Be healthy
  • Help others
  • Have meaningful experiences
  • Let go of the excess

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Even though slowing down is a side effect of experiencing awe, if you’d like to experience it at all, you have to make attempts to slow down instead of assume it will happen automatically. Standing back in awe of a sunset or piece of art will never happen if you don’t find ways to “boycott busyness” (as Courtney Carver would say) and put yourself in those situations. Slow down the fast pace of your day-to-day, and you may find wonderment more readily available than before.

I am almost halfway through my challenge, and I’m now taking my own advice to slow down even further. Hopefully I’ll be able to capture images that somehow convey my emotional experience.

Check back each week for an update on my experience.

Follow me on twitter @audreywanders #31daysofnature.
Join me outside, wherever you are, regardless of the date.
Let me know what you find.

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