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Go Stargazing for Your Health: 4 Ways a Sense of Awe Is Good For You

Take in the beauty around you.

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Whether you’re savoring a stunning sunset or watching your grandbaby take her first steps, the feeling of being in the presence of something bigger than yourself is the definition of awe. It reminds us of our humanity, and what a magical place this world can be. But did you know there are other benefits of awe that could impact your mental health for the better? We talked to the experts — keep reading to see how a sense of wonder can improve your life in more ways than one.

How is awe beneficial?

Awe’s benefits are far-reaching, says Dacher Keltner, PhD, author of Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life (Buy from Amazon, $25.20). “Awe reduces stress, decreases physical pain and expands our sense of time,” he reveals. “And it just takes a couple of minutes to get the perks — in fact, most people feel awe two to three times a week because it’s very accessible.” Just read on to let the power of wonder boost your joy, optimism, and everyday bliss.

Fearful? Take that nature RX.

Anxiety and worry cause the brain to overestimate outside threats and risks, reveals Keltner. “The very best antidote to fear is regularly spending time in nature to find your form of ‘wild awe,’ be it gazing at the night sky, watching clouds drift above, or strolling in a local park .” He explains that savoring natural wonder for just a few minutes a day not only dials down fear by expanding our sense of time and calming anxiety, but it also increases our energy levels and bolsters our immune system by decreasing pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines that are released when we’re stressed. In other words, awe-inspiring nature is medicine for mind, body, and spirit.

Burned out? Tap into the wonder around you.

When we feel stuck, conceptual awe sparks creativity, says Jonah Paquette, author of Awestruck (Buy from Amazon, $16.95). “Learning something mind-bending — like that there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on Earth — gets the imagination going.” And you can access it any time: “Ask yourself what you can see right now that would amaze someone 500 years ago,” he urges, adding that anything from the window that keeps the cold out to the coffee maker that brews a hot cup of joe can fill us with wonder if we pause to marvel at the mundane. In fact, appreciation and awe are closely linked. “As we cultivate gratitude, we feel more awe, and vice versa.”

Financial Stress? Look for this kind of beauty.

Money worries narrow our focus on what we don’t have, making it harder to see all that we do have. But awe transforms a “scarcity mindset” into one of hope, says Keltner. He notes one thing that sparks everyday wonder is moral beauty, or the courage and integrity of others. Such awe of admiration may help us feel more generous, creating a sense of abundance that curbs financial fears. To be inspired by moral beauty, consider reading about someone who does good in the world. This ignites the kind of awe that helps replace money anxiety with faith in yourself and the future.

Lonely? Enjoy ‘collective effervescence.’

“Awe alleviates loneliness by making us feel part of something bigger,” says Keltner, adding that activities where we experience wonder with others — such as the joy of dancing or taking an “awe walk ” with a friend to smell the roses — evoke “collective effervescence,” the sensation of being in harmony with those around us. “When I’m lonely, I’ll listen to music with other people, because communal rituals activate awe by giving us common purpose.” Whether you sing with strangers at a concert or volunteer at a community garden, sharing the same goal deepens connections.

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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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