You don’t need to take a flight in space or even take a white water rafting trip to experience awe. You can experience awe at varying intensities, and in your own ways: listening to a moving piece of music, seeing a giant skyscraper, or reading a newspaper story about a local hero.
“It’s how we respond when we see something new or novel that doesn’t fit with our understanding of the world,” Amie Gordon, PhD, Principal Research Scientist in the Emotion, Health, and Psychophysiology Lab at University of California-San Francisco, tells NBC.
Fundamentally, awe is about novelty and vastness, Gordon says. Physical space might create that vastness, as can someone’s talent or someone’s goodness, she says.
And negative experiences, too, can trigger awe (think natural disasters), Gordon adds — though which benefits such moments come with is yet unclear, she says.
There’s no perfect formula for what might elicit awe from you (because it’s different for everyone), but there are some things you can do to help you run into it more often:
1.Go out into nature.
Research shows that people consistently rank nature as one of the top ways that they experience awe, Gordon says. Try getting to a place where you can get a vast view of your environment (such as climbing a mountain or even getting to a the top floor a high building), she says. Or just take a walk in whatever nature is around you and try looking for something you’ve never seen before, she says.
2. Get out of your comfort zone.
Novelty is a big part of awe. Visit somewhere in your town or city you’ve never been. Try something new. Read about someone you don’t know much about, or a biography of someone who inspires you, Gordon suggests.
3. Look up.
Sure, you can experience awe watching a film showing the world’s tallest mountain or listening to a recording of a symphony. But those encounters likely pale in comparison to the magnitude of awe you’d feel had you had those experiences in real life, Anderson says, making the case for taking time to experience awe in 3-D. “Your phone will never be as intense as actually being there in person.”
Take in the sites and sounds around you. And look up from your phone and other distractions.
4. Have an open mind.
Part of the experience of awe is that feeling of smallness that cause you to rescale yourself — or see yourself in a different light, says Beau Lotto, PhD, a neuroscientist at and founder of the private, experimental research lab, the Lab of Misfits.
Lotto and his colleagues recently partnered with the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group to observe how the company’s live performances elicit awe and how it changes brain activity. (They’re findings suggest when people report experiencing awe mapped to changes in patterns of brain activity linked to being more willing to take risks and being more comfortable with uncertainty. The data has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in an academic journal.)
Lotto’s advice for feeling more awe therefore is to engage with the world with a more open mind, see possibilities, ask questions, and look for the impossible.