Life Lessons

Seeking Awe in the Everyday

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES I keep a gratitude journal. Each night (well, most nights) I take a moment to jot down at least three things for which I feel grateful. I like the opportunity to reflect on the day and end on a positive note.

Friends make the nightly list with reliable frequency. Especially friends who share their wisdom, wonder and curiosity.

Recently over lunch, friend N. mentioned a study that found experiencing awe has a strong correlation with feeling happy. She noted the study doesn’t claim that awe causes happiness, just that there is an interesting intersection.  Given that, she’s taken to looking for awe. One day she stopped short to admire the sky on a walk home from work. She’s on it.

I happen to think this is a most excellent strategy and I have adopted it as my own, with gratitude.

awe  noun (1) an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful or the like.

I love her idea of looking for awe in the everyday.

I figure awe could be anywhere: an inspired performance of artistry or athleticism, a lyrical turn of phrase at the turn of a page, a moving and memorable lecture or sermon, a quadruple rainbow in the skies above Long Island.

This time of year, the world gives us such easy places to begin. There is so much to marvel at: the riot of violets suddenly erupting in my yard, the sudden summer-like heat of the sun, the number of people on the bike path and the remarkable infrequency of collision.  Do they all count as awe? No, but I’m with N. and I’m keeping my eyes open.


Yesterday’s awe was all about the universe. I ogled the sublime images from Hubble Space Telescope and tried to wrap my brain around the mind-blowing scale of our accelerating universe.  Truly: awe-some.

I like word play, so I like to think of awe as a concentrated version of aware (awe = aw[ar]e). We don’t get to feel awe unless we’re actually paying attention. So by really looking, really listening, really feeling what is going on around us, we can get a genuine head start on finding awe in the everyday.

Awe is also an intensifier. More than mere consciousness, it’s about depth of appreciation and engagement. We gotta be in to be in awe.

Life Lesson #11: Awe favors the mindful.

Footnote: I started the gratitude practice at the start of the year after watching Shawn Archer’s TED Talk on happiness and the workplace. To be honest, I thought it sounded a little trite initially, but I’ve come to enjoy the evening ritual and to savor the pleasure of appreciation.  I’m often amused and always delighted by what pops up.


4 thoughts on “Seeking Awe in the Everyday

  1. I have a Delight-a-Day journal. I have to admit my actually writing things down waxes and wanes, but as you infer, being mindfully aware of the awe in everyday things is a delight. Clouds frequent the top my list…they are an ever-changing, yet constant companion.


    1. I like the idea of a delight a day! If you haven’t already found it, I highly recommend The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. A wonderful tribute to the delight of clouds.


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