Want to feel like you have more time in your life? Experience something awe-inspiring! According to a new study, when we encounter the extraordinary—something so strikingly vast in number, scope, or complexity that it alters the way we understand the world—we sense that we have more time. It's as if as our mind opens up to the expansive possibilities of the universe, our sense of time expands as well.
When awestruck we experience a kind of timelessness that takes us out of the every day and connects us with something vaster, often at the edges of our comprehension. We sense of a greater whole as things coalesce into something much grander that the sum of the parts. The music swells, the curtain parts, and we are amidst the spectacle feeling incredibly present and transported. Researchers find that once we are amazed we are more likely to choose having another experience over acquiring more stuff. We are touched more deeply by the incredible than a shiny new object, and we choose our fulfillment accordingly.
Apparently this phenomenon can be induced by reading or looking at pictures of extraordinary things, but why not experience your wonder first hand? Walking in nature is one way to feel awe with the added benefit of getting your blood pumping. Soaring church cathedrals were the agape-inspiring architecture of the past, but you can find other examples in the built environment today. We recently spent two weeks in the desert helping to build the Temple of Juno at Burning Man, definitely a jaw dropping structure in an eye popping festival. We were not alone. An ever-increasing number of people attend this one-week extravaganza—this year 52,000 in all—many of them devoting hundreds of hours to creating the most spectacular art cars, costumes, and sculptures imaginable, and (in some cases) burning them!
In an earlier essay we expounded on the joys to be found in the small, ordinary, and everyday moments, and now here we are regaling the benefits of seeking out those things that knock your socks off. What gives? In addition to our general fondness for paradox, we are aware of the elusive roles that balance and novelty play in creating well-being. As with any good high-wire act some degree of balance is needed, a dynamic process as we seek our point of equilibrium between the extremes. This point shifts over time too depending on our circumstances and needs. How many hours can you work today before the quality of your attention wavers and you need a break? How many errands can you run this weekend and still have time to recharge your batteries for the coming week? How much TV will help you relax tonight, but without turning you into a blob?
Within our lives of dynamic balance, we also need the occasional thrill to send our hearts racing, if just a bit. Our high-wire performer is balancing twenty-five feet in the air, but we are delighted to see her now posing on a chair and eating—an éclair! We were not expecting the éclair, and so we enjoy this bit of fun all the more. So too it is with our well-being regimes. We exercise regularly while walking the dog, but sometimes we need to change it up with a jog, a paddle, or a sprint to the ice cream store. We express our gratitude regularly to our partner, but the surprise bouquet of flowers, the warm oil massage, and the mystery outing add sweet-smelling spice to the mix.
It turns out that a basic sense of balance, a dash of novelty, and sprinkling of awe are good for creating both circus acts and our well-being. What you do with each of these elements is up to you as the designer of your own Good Life. It's a life-long practice that can take you to the outer reaches of a blistering desert for Burning Man one moment, and have you nestled on the couch with an excellent book the next. It's your show!
Think of a time that you were awestruck. Take a few moments to describe it in writing. (This works best if you take the time to write it versus simply remembering it.) Describe the scene in detail with all your senses. Do you notice any changes in your mood? Your sense of time? Your desire to have another awe-inspiring experience? Next type 'awe-inspiring' into Google Images and have a gander. Notice any difference between looking at spectacular images and recalling an amazing event?
Plan to have one awe-inspiring event this week. Where do you find awe these days? In nature? At a museum? Listening to music? Reading? Do you notice changes in your mood? Your breathing? Your sense of time? What is inspired in you?
Wishing you an awesome good time!
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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