Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Dacher Keltner at the Facebook day on Compassion. He is the founder of the wonderful resource that is the Greater Good Science Centre affiliated with the University of California Berkeley. Their mission is to share “the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teach skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.” They bring the science to everyone in laymans terms, out of the journals, readable and accessible for the Greater Good.
I was introduced to Dacher’s work on Awe at last years conference in the US. It was not something that I had heard academics talk about in the UK, so I was listening deeply to his talk and insights. I was lucky enough to see him again sharing his good work with the Facebook and Wisdom community in 2015. He began by giving us his definition of Awe:” being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.” (2009) Followed by a brief history from Protagoras’s origin story to Max Weber (1905) and political awe. Awe was originally something we associated with divine beings. In 1757 Edmund Burke, an Irish philosopher wrote about how we feel sublime (awe) in our everyday experiences of life and not just our relationship with God. Currently at Berkley they are studying people’s narratives of awe, people share extraordinary experiences they have had, although frequently awe is described in response to everyday experiences we encounter.
They have found studies showing the awe-altruism link, spending time present in things that are larger than we are, encourages a more modest, less narcissistic self, which enables greater kindness towards others. In the consumerist lives we live in, it is all ‘me,me,me’ and when we do not get what we want instantly we can all get impatient that our needs are not being met. We are so important, that we always want to be heard and what we think and know, is more important than another person. So our ego’s are constantly being bombarded and boosted with the messages we get from the media and society. To balance this it could be good practice to realise how small we are in this big world around us, where we are all inter-connected. Opening our eyes to this connection with nature and others in awe experiences alone or with others could be good for our health. I am all for practising increasing our wellbeing when times are ok and good, to help us in the tougher more painful times we will experience.
In the Berkley lab they have been studying one branch of the immune system called cytokine system. They are chemical messengers, produced by cells in damaged tissues. Cytokines evoke an inflammatory response, which is important for killing pathogens and healing wounds. Research in Psychology is showing that a hyperactive cytokine response can result in chronic sickness and vulnerability to disease. Jennifer Stellar did some work highlighting of all the positive emotions we experience, only awe predicted reduced levels of cytokines.
If you want to explore more on the Science of Happiness you can take the MOOC (Massive, Open, Online, Course) Free course on the science of happiness from some of the experts in the field. At times like these I love technology, bringing us closer to the knowledge and wisdom available, where money and our location is no longer an excuse. Information is available so much of it, we are bombarded, this course could change your life for the better or you can also try out another course Science of Happiness – The 30 Days Happiness Program with Manuel Kraus.
If online courses are not your thing and you will be in London on the 9th May you can explore happiness live with real human-beings, in real time with co-founder Shamash Alidina and The Musuem of Happiness event.
If you want to find out more about Awe you can watch one of Dacher’s talks here-
To close, gratitude to the awesome 😉 Dacher for his work and practising what he preaches. He talks about ‘seeking more daily awe’, what can you do to create more awe experiences in your day or your week? Share them and comment on the blog below.
Happy bank holiday to those of you in the UK, a very good opportunity to practice getting out there in nature and consuming some awe experiences for the Greater Good!
Stellar, J. E., John-Henderson, N., Anderson, C. L., Gordon, A. M., McNeil, G. D., & Keltner, D. (2015, January 19). Positive Affect and Markers of Inflammation: Discrete Positive EmotionsPredict Lower Levels of Inflammatory Cytokines.
Emotion. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000033