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Awe is a Bottom-up Experience

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positivepsychology.net Headlined to H2 5/24/15

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Originally Published on OpEdNews


From flickr.com/photos/50693818@N08/9397713362/: Grand Canyon National Park: North Kaibab Trail in Redwall
Grand Canyon National Park: North Kaibab Trail in Redwall
(Image by Grand Canyon NPS)
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Awe may be one ingredient that helps people be more caring and empathetic towards others.

 
Researchers Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner report, in a NY Times article, Why Do We Experience Awe, have been studying awe. They say,
"Why do humans experience awe? Years ago, one of us, Professor Keltner,argued (along with the psychologist Jonathan Haidt) that awe is the ultimate "collective" emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. Through many activities that give us goose bumps -- collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship -- awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong."
The researchers have been studying the effects of inducing awe in subjects and it looks like after having a one minute awe experience (gazing up at a grove of beautiful old trees,) subjects were kinder and more willing to help someone else-- helping pick up pencils dropped by a person who was a part of the experiment.

In another experiment subjects were asked how much awe they experienced. Then they gave them all lottery tickets and said they could give some of them to an unidentified person who did not have any lottery tickets. They reported the results:
"We found that participants who reported experiencing more awe in their lives, who felt more regular wonder and beauty in the world around them, were more generous to the stranger. They gave approximately 40 percent more of their tickets away than did participants who were awe-deprived."

The researchers hypothesize that awe creates a perspective where people feel more aware of being part of a greater whole. (Actually, their scientific paper states this hypothesis: " awe can result in a diminishment of the individual self and its concerns, and increase prosocial behavior. ") That seems like a way of describing people being conscious of being a part of the community, the ecosystem, the earth, life-- the kinds of consciousness that I think are essential to a bottom-up way of seeing and living.

This is exciting for me because it actually, scientifically shows the connection between feeling connected and acts of generosity and kindness. Over 30 years ago I wrote about this from a different perspective, looking at people's heartwarming experiences and positive experiences. Most of those could be characterized as tied to awe:

-watching my kids' fascination and excitement with catching lightning bugs -- and remembering my childhood hunts for orange "kings" and green queens.

-floating on a rubber raft for miles down a stream near my grandparents house, THe cool water and warm sun were just right while I watched the canopy of light and leaves overhead.

-seeing a fellow employee after a week's vacation and giving each other a warm, happy greeting.

-seeing the dahlias begin to bloom the first year I tried growing them.

-Watching my grandfather take my children on a tractor ride on the farm, just like he used to take me

-watching my children sleep

I wrote about the idea of heartwarming back in 1988, in a chapter, Heartwarming, where I mentioned how heartwarming motivates goodness, and how, back in 1988 happiness science was just leaving the dark ages. Now, Positive Psychology is a vibrant, growing field.

Just as the pleasure of orgasm helps motivate the sex act for procreative purposes, heartwarming and its family of positive experiences (PEs) motivate people to achieve, create and relate altruistically in a socially beneficial way. It's no accident anti-social, cruel people are described as cold. Heartwarming and its cousins; joy, ecstasy, peak experiences, love, runner's high and laughter are the rewards for functioning at the peak of human experience. They motivate us to fulfill our greatest potential. When a scientist figures out an answer to a challenging question, the feeling of achievement, of glowing success, satisfaction and completion is the greatest reward. Positive feelings like these are the motivators of mental and intellectual progress and development, of art and creativity.

Happiness Science is just leaving the Dark Ages.

The knowledge explosion has had little effect on our understanding of happiness, heartwarming and the other positive experiences (PEs). Research on the varieties of PE is almost non-existent. There are tens of thousands of studies which have looked at illness, symptoms, or psychopathology. It's hard to find any that look at positive strengths and resources. I continue to be amazed that there is not one scientific reference to heartwarming, regardless of the technical words used. This incredible gap in our scientific knowledge about such an important aspect of humanity spurred me to do the research which led to this book. the closest descriptions of heartwarming experiences have been written by the poets and bards. That's why you'll find many quotes spread throughout the book."

This study gives me hope-- that it may be possible to open up and warm cold hearted people-- to instill warmheartedness, a trait that the Dalai Lama strongly recommends. And it raises questions. How do psychopaths and narcissists respond to awe inspiring stimuli-- emotionally, mentally, psychophysiologically?

In the past, psychiatrist Andrew Newberg discussed, in his book, Why God Won't Go Away, that the part of the brain which helps us define self and not-self in our consciousness is quieted by religious meditators when they feel a connection with God. I wonder how or if that ties in with this. (It's been 13 years since I chatted with Newberg about this down at U. of PA, so the memory is a bit dusty.)

Regardless, it's nice to know that taking time every day to connect with nature-- to expose yourself to potentially awe inspiring moments-- and it only takes a few seconds-- can really make a difference that is of tangible value for you and the world.






 

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Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

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