Wonder, awe, amazement—whatever you call it, research says it yields big-time benefits for your mind and body. Here's what you need to know.

By Dan Nosowitz
June 04, 2019

If you glimpse a magnificent sunrise or spend a little time hoofing around a beautiful centuries-old castle, you've probably smiled (and scratched your head) while thinking something like, "Wow, this is really incredible."

Whether you call it awe, wonder, or amazement, the emotion you feel by seeing or experiencing certain things (marveling at the Grand Canyon, seeing a beautiful monarch butterfly, or musing on the expanses of space, for example) has some powerful proven health benefits.

USA, Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon, back view of woman looking at view
Image courtesy of Getty.

The concept of "awe" is broken down into two categories: perpetual awe and conceptional awe. Perpetual awe is created when we encounter something that makes us feel small, or part of a larger system. This feeling can be brought on by watching a nature documentary on Netflix or seeing the Earth from space—what’s important is what it triggers in us. Conceptual awe, on the other hand, comes from more subjective stuff like art, music, film. It’s more personal, triggering feelings of wonder and the experience of beauty.

Men's Health writer Michael Behar looked into the scientific research behind awe and wrote a feature on its benefits. Despite not being the cleanest emotion to articulate, awe has a decent body of work around it. (There’s even research on what exactly awe is.) Awe can have physical effects; there are the expected ones, like increased heart rate, chills, and goosebumps, but there are more surprising ones, too. A  2015 study found that experiencing awe reduces certain kinds of inflammation.

There are also mental benefits. Awe has been found to make people more patient, more giving, and less stressed. Psychologically, experiencing something larger than yourself tends to reduce even benign narcissism. When you see something so much bigger, so much more complex than your life, you can more rationally and calmly address your own problems. Is a hapless sales clerk really that big a deal, in the face of the wonder of the Milky Way? Not really.

So get out, go into nature, go see art and music and films. Or stay on your couch and watch a nature documentary. It's good for your health!


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