Awe Appears To Be Awfully Beneficial

It seems that Awe is a remarkably beneficial emotionTwenty years ago, scientists started to research a mysterious emotion called awe. They believe that awe can offer a variety of benefits, including calming our nervous system and relieving stress.ARI SHAPIRO HOST:States and towns are opening up. While families and friends are reuniting, many Americans feel sad, anxious, or down. NPR has launched the Joy Generator app to help people find joy in their lives. It can be found at The app can help you get rid of the pandemic blues by evoking one emotion.NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports.MICHAEL DOUCLEFF BYLINE: Michelle Shiota worked from home all through the pandemic. She did one activity after another, every day.MICHELLE SHITA: For the past 14 months, I have spent most my waking hours staring at a computer screen.DOUCLEFF - Shiota, a psychologist at Arizona State University, is an expert on emotions. She noticed that she was not feeling herself after six months.SHIOTA: My mind began to shrink by last fall. It felt almost like my mind was being held down by this very, very tight outfit.DOUCLEFF - Fortunately, her psychologist had an idea of how she could help. She needed to spend a few minutes every day outside, cultivating a certain emotion. She needed to look for awe.SHIOTA: I had to force myself to look further away.DOUCLEFF - Scientists began to study this mysterious emotion a few decades back. Piercarlo Valdesolo, Claremont McKenna College is one of these researchers. According to him, awe is when something new, unexplainable, vast, and extraordinary happens.PIERCARLO ValdesoLO: Sometimes you see something you didn't know you had, and then you realize that there is more to it than what you thought. It almost feels like you are looking into a new world. You are seeing something.DOUCLEFF - You could be looking at something large, such as the view from the top of a hill or something small, like a pink stripe in a flower. You may wonder, "Wow, how did that stripe get there?" It is so beautiful! Valdesolo said that awe helps you see the bigger picture and makes you believe there is something beyond your own reach. It helps you forget about your problems.VALDESOLO - You are more concerned about the collective. You are more generous. You are more generous and more cooperative. To put it simply, you can't help but get out of your head.DOUCLEFF - This is what many people require after months of isolation or quarantining.VALDESOLO - It's the antidote for isolation.DOUCLEFF - Other studies have shown that awe reduces stress. Michelle Shiota's research also shows that it can help you calm down.SHIOTA: There is evidence that the fight-flight sympathetic nervous systems activation dials back. People have an urge to stop moving and just absorb the information before they act.DOUCLEFF : Here's the kicker. It's a good idea to take a few minutes each day to cultivate awe. This will have a lasting effect. Northeastern University psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett. It becomes easier to feel this mood-boosting emotion over time, says she.LISA FELDMAN-BARRETT: Although it may sound a bit trite in the abstract, I can assure you that if you do it regularly, you are essentially helping your brain to produce those emotions more easily.DOUCLEFF: How do you feel awe? Michelle Shiota began to walk in awe around her neighborhood looking for unusual, extraordinary, and inspiring things.FELDMAN BARRETT : Your whole body just goes (sighing). - Better. Okay. OK. I can spread out and use the space I was meant to take.DOUCLEFFMichaeleen Doucleff - NPR News(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC).Copyright 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. For more information, please visit's terms of use and permissions pages.Verb8tm, Inc., a contractor to NPR, creates NPR transcripts on a short deadline. They use a proprietary transcription method developed with NPR. This text could not be finalized and may be revised or updated in the future. The accuracy and availability of the information may be subject to change. The audio record is the authoritative record for NPR's programming.