At night when my family is sleeping I go outside, look up and soak in the sky. We have a big backyard on the top of the hill. The sky stretches from horizon to horizon.
I take a deep breath and draw it all in. The night's silence is an opportunity for peace. A moment to contemplate the tiny space I fill on a planet shared with over seven billion people.
Observing the size and scope of the world around us - both nature and man's work - is an opportunity for awe. It's a chance to put into perspective our place in the universe and to marvel at what has been created around us. That 'wow' feeling as we look up or out at magnificence is transcendent. It takes us to a place that we cannot fully imagine or understand.
Astronauts know it. There's a name for it - The Overview Effect. When you're in space (so I've read) looking back at Earth as a tiny speck in the vastness of the universe, the argument you had with your partner that morning seems a little, well, trivial.
Blow that out to a greater scale and religious, political and ideological conflict seems nonsensical given the scope of the surrounding cosmos; like watching toddlers fight over a toy in the sandpit.
Space travel is not practical for most of us but we can avail ourselves of this shift in mindset; a shift that shrinks our problems.
Getting out in nature, exposing yourself to great music, art or literature, taking a wild ride or just wondering about the world can induce awe. It can give you a different perspective on your worries, increase your gratitude and calm your mind.
But wait, there's more.
Researchers studying the effects of awe are finding that an awe-inspiring experience can also:
- Improve your relationships
- Help you feel connected to community
- Decrease distress
- Reduce materialism - the pointless desire for more stuff
- And enhance your satisfaction with life.
Sounds worth a few moments to soak in the stars, don't you think?
To experience awe you need to step out of your daily experience. Wonderment is rare in the living room. Try hiking to the top of a hill or mountain to take in the view or listen to a piece of music that brings tears to your eyes. Look up at the night sky or a tall tree or cycle fast down a big hill.
Think back over your experiences of awe. What inspires you? Get out and do more of it and see if you can't shrink those problems.