A U.C. Berkeley study, recently published in the journal, Emotion, is making news through several outlets cited below. It posits that the experience of positive emotions, particularly awe and wonder, lowers inflammation.
“That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions – a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, a co-author of the study.
What is wonder and how is it different from awe?
If you’ve been reading this site for awhile, you know that wonder is a contemplative habit that can be cultivated through photography. Awe and wonder are often used interchangeably, although there is a subtle difference between the two.
Here are the dictionary definitions, adapted from Merriam-Webster.
Wonder: a feeling of astonishment or admiration caused by something that is surprising, beautiful, or amazing.
“Wonder is the beginning of all wisdom. Wonder is the first of all passions. Wonder is the beginning of all writing. Wisdom, emotions, and creativity – all borne from wonder.” ~ Jeffrey Davis, Tracking Wonder
Awe: an emotion that combines dread, veneration, and wonder. It is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.
“In the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear is a little studied emotion – awe. Awe is felt about diverse events and objects, from waterfalls to childbirth to scenes of devastation. Awe is central to the experience of religion, politics, nature, and art. Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways.” ~ Keltner and Haidt, 2003 Caltech Study
The study cited above details the differences between the two. Wonder results in admiration, but awe adds the element of fear or submission, the sense of being in the presence of something larger than oneself. It can be frightening at times.
Other benefits from experiencing Awe
* Perception of time expands
* More patient
* More willing to volunteer time or help others
* Prefer experiences over material things
* Greater life satisfaction
via a 2012 Stanford Study on Time and Awe
We can experience wonder in several ways, but being out in nature is one of the best. So, if our cameras can get us out in nature, where we’re likely to experience awe and wonder, then let’s do it.
I was recently in Florida, where the flora and fauna are completely different from what I’m used to at home. This led to many moments of wonder as I noticed new forms of bark and blossoms – like the bottlebrush blossom at the top of this post and the basket-weave type bark on this palm tree.
Nature Deficit Disorder
On the flip side, not experiencing nature is epidemic, especially in our western culture, resulting in what Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, coined as “nature deficit disorder.” He is particularly concerned about children, and believes that the lack of connection to nature can lead to behavioural problems.
Louv, the author of the bestsellers Last Child in the Woods (2005) and The Nature Principle (2011), coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe the loss of connection children increasingly feel with the natural world. Nature-deficit disorder is not a clinically recognized condition, he explains, but rather a term to evoke a loss of communion with other living things. Nevertheless, he argues, nature-deficit disorder affects “health, spiritual well-being, and many other areas, including [people’s] ability to feel ultimately alive.” ~ Interview with Richard Louv at National Geographic
Carol Albers introduced me to a new social media campaign begun by videographer Louis Schwartzberg aimed to beat nature deficit disorder (#BeatNDD). I hope you’ll join me and Carol in spreading the word.
Download my PDF on Wonder, which includes exercises to cultivate this contemplative habit.
When did you last experience awe or wonder?
Experiences of Art, Nature and Spirituality May Help Prevent Disease – Huff Post Live
How Feelings of Awe Lower Inflammation – Traci Pedersen, Spirituality & Health
Turning to Wonder with Contemplative Photography – Center for Courage and Renewal