The findings of researchers at the University of California Berkely’s Greater Good Science Centre are relevant to those of us who conceptualise and design experiences that are intended to make a difference and influence behaviour. They report that all emotions function to give us a context within our social settings. For example, when we feel embarrassment and shame it diminishes our sense of status in relation to others, and makes us more likely to withdraw, whilst pride increases our sense of status and helps us connect.
Awe however is something else again. It expands our world, and produces what the authors call ‘a small self’. Awe connects us to our universal self – each other. And, importantly, the influence of awe crosses cultural boundaries.
Awe is most commonly elicited by interpersonal interactions and nature. It is most commonly felt in places that have two key features – physical vastness and novelty. So it is no wonder that witnessing a landscape at dawn, or listening for the first time to a piece of beautiful music can create that special feeling of wonder.
For those of us that have the privilege of working with natural and cultural attractions for a living – we often feel awe-inspired. But now we know how important it is to create that experience for others. Expanding awareness and enlarging people’s world view will help bring people together and make good things happen.