Five Ways to Cultivate Awe

I was lucky enough to see a total eclipse last month. At the moment of totality, we safely viewed the eclipse with our naked eyes. People cheered, laughed, and cried out.

My own reaction surprised me. I was overcome by emotions — shock, humility, and exhilaration. Tears filled my eyes.

I was in awe.

A Mysterious Emotion That May Be Good For You

Psychologists and neuroscientists are studying how and why we feel awe. The field of research is new; initial studies have found that:

  • We may be able to think more deeply and analytically after feeling awe
  • Awe makes us more generous and more satisfied with our lives
  • Awe is good for our health and may boost our immune system

If you’d like to learn more, Slate and Greater Good Magazine offer great round-ups of the cognitive research on awe.

imagine the last time you felt awe. Where were you? How did it feel?

Five Ways to Find Awe in NYC and Beyond

Cognitive scientists recreated awe in the lab by showing nature videos to test participants. Here are five other techniques I’ve used to find awe in daily life.

Survey the World from a Rooftop

Photo Oct 19, 5 31 50 PM

Connecting to nature in a city sometimes is difficult, but roof access is usually pretty easy. Choose a rooftop and take ten quiet minutes to really look out at the expanse.

Spend Time Among Tall Trees


There are over 5 million trees in New York City and you might find awe underneath one of them. One of my favorite forests is the Ravine in Prospect Park. I also wrote a step-by-step guide to noticing your closest tree.

Contemplate Art


Sit in front of a work of art. Take your time. You may want to listen music in ear buds as it can help you ignore distractions. Some of my favorite “sit spots” are at the Met, the Brooklyn Museum, The Drawing Center, and the New York Earth Room.

Step Inside a Soaring Space


Architecture can inspire awe. In this self-experiment, step inside a cathedral, museum, or other grand public space. A few suggestions in New York City are St. John the Divine, the Cloisters, the Guggenheim, or Grand Central. Do you feel taken out of yourself and connected to something larger?

Consider the Night Skyhayden-planetarium-programs

The night sky can be truly awesome. If you want to learn more about the night sky in NYC, I highly recommend visiting the Hayden Planetarium. Their Astronomy Live events are incredible.

Bonus: Take a Guided Awe Walk Right Now

If you want to start right now, put together a video of a guided awe walk meditation through the Muir Woods in California. Enjoy!

Does awe really help to sharpen the brain and open the heart? I’m curious if you’ve seen any effects in your own life. Do you have suggestions for other ways to find awe? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.



Add yours →

  1. Leslie E. Farragher September 24, 2017 — 1:59 pm

    Your article really resonates. Interestingly enough, there were two “awe-inspiring” experiences that popped into my head as I read your story. Watching fireflies mesmerizes me. It’s always a wonder-inducing experience. The second is a bit more esoteric…I syringe feed kittens for the ASPCA and when they look into my eyes as I look into theirs while feeding them it makes me marvel at the wonder of life. Maybe it’s a cross-species connection kind of thing. There are two experiences that I would love to have some day that I expect would knock me off my feet…seeing the Milky Way from some dark, desert place and communing with some bristlecone pines!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Traci! This is just what we all need. Not only is this essay beautiful, but it is spot on. If every human being took five minutes to ponder the beauty of this world every day, to really let it wash over them for a few minutes, I think a lot of things would be a lot different. Bravo.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful post. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Open skies, especially ones with clouds. Seaside/ocean views. I enjoy the feeling of being only a small part of something much bigger, and taking a moment (or few) to take the views and my feelings in. I want to say emptiness, but I’m guessing it’s as close to tranquility as I can get, being a rather restless person. I’m guessing awe keeps my mind young, and reduces stress by being fully in the here and now. Thanks for writing this Traci. A reminder to keep experiencing awe.


  5. Thank you for the inspiration! I, myself, am contantly drawn to ocean waves and roof top views. Maybe I’ll stare up into the branches of a mighty tree today…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. From Sheryl:
    I tried and failed to respond to your last blog about cultivating awe. (Password problems on my part.)
    You asked how others went about “cultivating awe,” and I wanted to share. Thanks. (Found you through Green Acorns.)


  7. This is tremendous Traci. It reminds me we don’t have to be in a place such as the grand canyon to experience awe. It is all around us, and we just have to look for it.

    As a runner, often I am in awe with how well engineered our bodies are, and the cues it gives that I need to pay attention to. Like thirst, or pain when I am pushing the limits of distance or speed.

    To answer your question about suggestions on ways to find awe. I think the biggest would be to slow down. We live in such a fast paced society, and we miss out on so much. I think it is very fitting and very beautiful Traci that in New York City, one of the more fast paced citied on the planet you gave examples (or techniques) to find that awe in daily life! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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