Inspiring Awe in Teens

Throughout history, awe was a feeling often associated with religious or spiritual experiences, and it still can be. But it also can be felt through breathtaking sensations that happen during certain experiences — like walking in a Redwood Forest or exploring a glacier. Or by small miracles that happen everyday — like the leaves changing colors with the seasons or a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Awe can also be inspired by witnessing and elevating the acts of loving-kindness from others around us. For teens, these experiences can help them think about who they are and who they want to be as they explore an immense world.

According to leading thinkers Dr. Dacher Keltner and Dr. Jonathan Haidt, awe is an emotion that  reminds us we are part of something greater. It helps shift attention outward in healing and inspiring ways. Awe typically involves an experience of “perceived vastness,” according to Dr. Keltner. Greater Good Science Center describes awe as “the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world, like looking up at millions of stars in the night sky or marveling at the birth of a child. When people feel awe, they may use other words to describe the experience, such as wonder, amazement, surprise, or transcendence.”  

The Benefits of Experiencing Awe

By forcing us to reimagine our role in the universe, awe helps us gain perspective. It adds to our sense of wonder and desire to seek beauty in the world. It encourages us to take part in shared experiences. Notably, awe has been shown to increase generosity. That may be because the experience of awe makes people see themselves as part of something bigger which allows them to connect more deeply with others. These stronger and deeper connections between ourselves, our families, and our communities lead to even more benefits for our health and well-being.

There are many benefits related to experiencing awe, including better physical and emotional health and increased happiness. Awe sparks curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. It is also a good coping skill as it allows us to take a break from our worries — an “instant vacation.”

When people feel awe, they may use other words to describe the experience, such as wonder, amazement, surprise, or transcendence.

Awe in Children

Children have a natural capacity for awe. Spend time with a young child, and you’ll be sure to get back in touch with your ability to experience wonder. Try to see the world through their eyes. Appreciate their developing curiosity. Teens are pretty awe-inspiring as well. Their newfound capacity to seek a deeper understanding of the universe is astounding. Their ability to care about others and remain idealistic is inspirational. 

6 Easy Ways to Promote Awe in Teens

  1. Talk about the kind of people and actions that inspire them. Read a biography or watch a documentary about someone they find inspirational.
  2. Search online for awe-inspiring places, events, and people, like the Grand Canyon, the Northern Lights, Martin Luther King Jr., or Jane Goodall.
  3. Volunteer or engage in acts of kindness. Selfless or generous acts broaden your capacity to care for others.
  4. Attend a religious or spiritual service and discuss the values taught that day.
  5. Explore nature’s wonders. Whether you travel in person or view on-screen, marvel at the planet’s existing beauty. Walk, hike, or bike ride and take in the amazing diversity of life on earth.
  6. Browse museums for history, art, or science that will leave you speechless.

Even though awe may feel like a temporary sensation, it can have lifelong benefits for families. It can bring you closer together as you reminisce about your awesome experiences and strengthen the connections we have with one another.

This article was adapted from works written by Dr. Ken Ginsburg.

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About Andy Pool

Andrew Pool, Ph.D., M.Sc. is a Research Scientist at CPTC. He has a doctorate in Public Health with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Sciences from Temple University.

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