The Benefits of Anticipatory Awe: An Awe Practice

Spring is proof that we can consciously go looking for an emotion as grand as awe – and find it.


I look forward to the spring season every year with great anticipation. Spring is a time when life is suddenly awakening all around us. The landscape changes from brown and gray to green and colorful. In my yard, daffodils have popped up through the dirt and now greet me with bunches of green stems and white trumpet flowers. The buds on my cherry tree have burst open with pink flowers, and pink tulips adorn the branches of my Saucer Magnolia Tree.


I’ve lived in my 1901 farmhouse for twenty-four years now. Many of the Daffodil bulbs around my home are plants that I transplanted from their haphazard and random places all over the yard to more centralized locations in groupings and flower beds, where I now watch for their return every spring.

The Saucer Magnolia, which I once thought was a bush planted in the middle of the yard, has finally taken on the shape of a tree, and now shows off those beautiful tulip-like flowers that were for so long stunted because a tree should never be pruned like a bush. Man, I’m I always excited to see those flowers return.


And the cherry tree, purchased at a plant sale on Oak Island a number of years ago, has flourished, in growth and buds, ever since I brought it home from the beach and planted it here on my windy hill.


Although the yearly return of the flowers and budding trees have all helped me believe that every spring I will be greeted with new life all around me, by very definition this is what awe does. Awe is an emotion that can have profoundly positive effects on us, and happens when we encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes us feel small and forces us to revise our mental models of what’s possible in the world.  


Did you catch that last part about revising mental models of what’s possible in the world?


Our mental models are our beliefs, perceptions, experiences, and understandings of the world. Sometimes a long, cold winter makes the buds and flowers less plentiful and vibrant. And sometimes a false spring is followed by a late ice or snow that causes flowers to droop and fade sooner than they typically do. Still, I always look forward to this time of year because those buds and flowers keep returning every single spring, filling me with hope and wonder.


Awe is a reason to hope, to search out wonder in our day-to-day experiences, and to keep anticipating something vast and unexpected, even when times are hard.


I know we all go through difficult stuff – dark seasons, and even crappy years. These experiences can lead us to form limiting and/or negative beliefs that, if left unchecked, can shade our view of the world in an awe-less light. Which is why I think it’s important to become aware that we have the power to modify our beliefs and actually improve our quality of life with the help of awe.


Now, I’m not suggesting we should live in some unrealistic state where we expect sunshine and daffodils every day. But I am suggesting is that awe is a tool at our disposal to help us through the difficult stuff, the dark seasons, and even those long, crappy years.


A fascinating study published by the National Institute on Health, suggests that the state of awe has the exciting potential for positive health effects. It states that awe “is a complex and transformative emotion that can restructure individuals’ mental frames so deeply that it could be considered a therapeutic asset for major mental health issues, including depression.”


I know people who struggle with depression. I know how depression can impact someone’s quality of life and experiences, and this study is saying that awe can help! The study went on to add that “awe acts as a trigger of accommodation, thereby fostering a process of positive change ranging from basic beliefs to more specific expectations of events.


We can teach ourselves to not only look for awe, but expect to find it, and thereby enhance our day-to-day lives. Let’s make awe-seeking a daily practice.


It seems obvious to me that we must get out there and look for awe moments. We must talk about these awe moments with others. I suggest we even flood our social media pages with these awe-filled moments and bring about a world full of positive change. Are you with me? I sure hope so.


I’d love to see the pictures and videos that fill you with awe. I’d also love to hear your awe-filled experiences and stories. Please share with me, and I’ll be sure to pass your pictures, videos, experiences, and stories along to others.