“Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.”- Emmanuel Kant
OK, gazing at brilliant starry skies certainly gives us pause, but maybe you would be gobsmacked by just watching something like a frog catching flies on a summer afternoon. That might be your “micro-adventure” for the day. We all need them and the moments of wonderment that they produce. Yes, watching a bullfrog pales beside a visit to The Great Wall of China but bigger-than-life macro experiences aren’t the only spectacles that produce awe, reverence, and wonderment. Keep micro in mind; the possibilities are everywhere.
Researchers at the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, CA who study the effects of awe on humans often describe it as a mixture of the experience of vastness with both pleasure and a fear of the unknown,
Why is awe good for us? Participants in various studies reported ‘greater joy and pro-social positive emotions”, the sensation of “feeling small in the wake of grandeur.” Micro-adventures promote a greater urge to smile, and then our brains release tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight stress. Other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins come into play too, acting as mild pain relievers.
What’s happening here? “Awe” basically quiets the nagging voice of the self, according to Professor Keltner, “That’s different from feeling pride or amusement or just feeling good.” It’s like being in search of something sacred, he adds. That wow moment even helps with our cognitive well-being and physical health. Best of all, there’s no need to reach for your wallet or passport: researchers define a micro-adventure as something simple, short inexpensive, and nearby.
A micro-adventure doesn’t mean getting completely out of your comfort zone or going somewhere different. It can take up an afternoon or be a transformative flash-in-the-pan experience. Some suggestions:
*Sign up for a rafting trip afternoon with friends (or with friendly strangers from the local boating community). If open water isn’t your medium, how about ice skating or roller skating/blading indoors?
*Local wonders: What’s awe-inspiring in your city, state, or neighborhood that you’ve never tried out? A cave, a river, a scalable mountainside, or a dedicated open space area with rare plants and animals, maybe a pollinator pathway?
* Sky Gazing is the ultimate awe-trigger. Is there an observatory nearby? It’s worth the trip if you’ve never stared into the heavens through the magic of a telescope.
* Bird watching: Hawks? Eagles? Condors? Vultures? Have you seen any of them up close? Find a bird sanctuary in your area and learn something about our feathered friends and their habits.
* Tap into your inner explorer. There’s more than one way to get where you’re going. Light up your sensory maps; put away Google Maps. If you usually drive, switch it up. Take a train or bus, and get off before your final stop. Challenge your sense of direction. Even better, ride a bike and marvel at all you see when you aren’t in a fast-moving car.
*Embrace the unknown and walk, bike, skip, or skateboard home from that errand. Smile at strangers, stop to smell the flowers. Bonus points if you brush up on your orienteering skills and head back home without using a gadget.
*VR (virtual reality can give you experiences in the arts, nature, the sky, and underwater that you’ve never dreamed of. You can borrow or buy (for $100 or less) a headset or other device that will transport you to the rainforest, an Indian street fair, a Russian church service, the opera, and more.
Here are some smaller moments that can ignite your awareness of “awe”:
- Go sit on a riverbank or pondside or near a stream and gaze at reflections in the water. Watch the life moving below the surface. Things that skitter and slither and swim, in and out of the vegetation. Small meditative moments can have a profound impact in arousing your sense of wonder.
- Sit outside on your porch rooftop, or sidewalk, and close your eyes. Listen deeply and see how many sounds you can identify. Sounds you may never have noticed in your busyness. Tune into nature’s symphony—the birds, the movement of trees, Even in the city, see how the passing sounds of moving vehicles, human life, and animals arouse your curiosity
- Study something up close and personal. A colony of ants, a simple dandelion, a spider’s web. Even better, pay a visit to an apiary and be amazed at the life of bees. Pay attention; be amazed at nature’s complex handiwork.