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The Easiest Path to Happiness Ever

awe happiness joy wonder Apr 10, 2024

Want more happiness?  Get more awe and wonder in your life. If you’ve ever witnessed an eclipse, stood in the dark under a starlit sky, or witnessed the breathtaking magic of a double rainbow, you have unintentionally but fully, entered one of the most amazing states a human can enter: a state of awe.


It can happen in a concert when you are totally immersed in the music, when you are moved deeply by a painting or poem, seeing a baby born, or staring at a majestic view from a mountaintop. These moments are indelible – we remember them not only in our minds, but our bodies too. They make us feel more present to life, to the moment, and to happiness.


Dacher Keltner, psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, founder of the Greater Good Science center, and author of the book AWE explains, “Twenty years into teaching happiness, I have an answer: FIND AWE.”


Today, we’ll explore how this practice turns on the happiness circuits in our brain, and our whole being. Before we go through these, I want to invite you to think of 1 or 2 times in your life when you have experienced a sense of awe.


Mine was sitting in the back yard near summer solstice, and we were allowed to stay up extra late. I was about 5. I remember the sky getting darker and darker and soon there were a few starts in the sky, then more, then the sky was filled with countless stars, and it was like I felt them all around me. Then I was swept into the exquisite beauty of it all, and the feeling of oneness, like I wasn’t even there on my lawn chair; I was transported. How have you experienced awe?


Next, why do these times move us to happiness?


1. Awe make us feel connected: The perfect example is the solar eclipse. Large number of strangers chose to get together in specific locations for an unforgettable experience. People spoke to people; smiling, some crying, there was no talk of divisiveness, just wonder, and anticipation, and an openness to share a profound experience, larger than themselves.


2. Awe takes us out of the usual stresses of life: all the worries, time scarcity, all the to do lists, and bring us right to presence, to being fully immersed in the moment. And experiencing more satisfaction with our lives. Like the flow state, where hours feel like minutes, and time does not exist, we and our problems are not front and center – in fact we are so engaged that it can feel like the ego has dissolved and we may even experience a spiritual or transcendent state.


3.Awe makes us feel more generous and kind: Research shows that people who have experience awe are more ready to help others, be fair and share with them. Researcher Paul Piff states, “When people experience awe, they really want to share that experience with other people… Maybe this is yet another way that awe binds people together—by causing people to want to share their positive experiences collectively with one another.”


4. Awe opens our brains: In the Project Happiness curriculum, implementing Moments of Awe was a gamechanger. Picture elementary school kids getting back from recess; they are usually amped up, right? To get them ready to focus on learning, we had them look at a large awe image and they had to visualize themselves in the picture – it could be the aurora borealis, a waterfall, a mountaintop, and they had 3 minutes to write about their experience, and share. After that, they were calm, open, and ready for whatever the day had in store.. Awe (whether seeing a photo or being in nature) puts people of every age into a positive and open state.


So, if you want to find more happiness by being freer from the stresses of life, by being more generous and kind, by having a sharper brain or by being connected to other people and something greater, your one stop shopping is to get you some awe.


It doesn’t cost a thing; it’s always available and doesn’t take much time, and it will elevate your joy like nothing else.



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