Feeling Awe Improves Cognition and Health

You’re standing beside the ocean watching the sun rise. The fragrance of the shoreline is soft, the breeze is cool and the gentle push of the tide tucks your toes into the sand. You marvel at how infinite the ocean feels and the beauty and mystery that emanates with each wave. Judging by the subtle smile on your face, some might think you are feeling tranquility or peace. But recent research shows there are deeper depths to positive emotions and what you may actually be feeling is awe. Naturally, there are several health benefits tied to experiencing awe.

While you may not be able to bring the ocean to your employees – or vice versa, you can use the benefits of experiencing awe to create a healthier work environment. Several studies show five main health benefits to experiencing awe, or the positive emotion involving wonder or veneration that might follow seeing a vast, breath-taking view or listening to an inspiring leader.

1) The immune system responds positively. Those who were taken aback by awe in one study had lower blood levels of a pro-inflammatory cytokine called interlekin-6 (IL-6). (Elevated levels of IL-6 can be an indicator of prolonged stress on the body, which can lead to a host of serious health conditions.)

2) Your sense of teamwork refreshes. Another research group revealed that a set of students reported feeling more connected and “belonging to a universal group” after they were asked to recall a beautiful natural scene.

3) Awe sharpens cognitive processing. After an exhilarating encounter, one study suggests that individuals may analyze information more thoroughly, such as the rationale behind a persuasive essay. Participants were prompted to feel one of several positive emotions, including awe. They were given persuasive essays to determine how convincing they were. The groups who experienced any other positive emotion except awe were persuaded by the essays, whether they were backed by a strong or weak argument. But those who experienced awe were able to critically evaluate the essays to differentiate between strong and weak arguments.

4) Feeling awe is a natural way to be present. Some researchers believe that experiencing awe centers the individual in the current moment, producing a happier effect. This is a key concept of meditation and may lead to similarly produced workplace benefits, such as improved focus and creativity, the ability to handle stress easier, better communication and more.

5) There is a positive social benefit, too. In the same study mentioned in No. 4, awe-experiencing participants were more willing to volunteer. Researchers believe this is because they feel more patient and less focused on themselves.

How Can You Create an Awesome Place to Work?

Awe can improve the health and happiness of your workforce, so here are some ideas to get started:

  • Hang up displays of natural beauty. You can find free photos online, connect with local photographers who are willing to share their work, or encourage your employees to share their own adventures.
  • Incorporate awe in your wellness program incentive. Encourage your employees to participate in your wellness program to earn a weekend getaway to experience natural beauty.
  • Create special events that pair awe-inspiring experiences with health promotion. Host a company outing, such as a weekend or afternoon to take a mountain-side hike or go on a nature excursion.
  • Be particularly mindful when selecting locations for company events. Planning the annual company picnic? Select a new location that highlights the beauty of each season in your area.
  • Host events with inspirational guests. Whether they are health experts (to support your wellness program) or astronauts, professionals sharing their passion may be just as effective as taking in a beautiful view.