Monday, June 08, 2015

Why do we experience awe?

Awe, like reverence, is a pro-social emotion that subordinates individual self interest to a larger whole. Dacher Keltner and Paul Piff, in their NYTimes piece publicizing of their more academic publication (marketing is a necessity these days) describe five different studies, each providing experimental evidence that awe helps bind us to others, motivating us to be more generous and helpful to strangers, to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities. The positive effect of awe on prosociality are partly explained by feelings of a smaller self.
...even brief experiences of awe, such as being amid beautiful tall trees, lead people to feel less narcissistic and entitled and more attuned to the common humanity people share with one another. In the great balancing act of our social lives, between the gratification of self-interest and a concern for others, fleeting experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective, and orient our actions toward the needs of those around us.
You could make the case that our culture today is awe-deprived. Adults spend more and more time working and commuting and less time outdoors and with other people...Attendance at arts events — live music, theater, museums and galleries — has dropped over the years...Arts and music programs in schools are being dismantled in lieu of programs better suited to standardized testing; time outdoors and for novel, unbounded exploration are sacrificed for résumé-building activities.
We believe that awe deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others. To reverse this trend, we suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe, to actively seek out what gives them goose bumps, be it in looking at trees, night skies, patterns of wind on water or the quotidian nobility of others — the teenage punk who gives up his seat on public transportation, the young child who explores the world in a state of wonder, the person who presses on against all odds.

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