A Sense of Vastness

The holiday season can inspire a sense of wonder, even as we leave childhood and enter the world of “adulting.” It’s a time when we can revisit childhood traditions, bask in the twinkling lights, even sled full speed down a hill in the snow (though we might wake up with more aches and pains these days). It’s a time when a sense of awe comes more easily to us than it does in everyday life.

Research psychologists refer to this sense of wonder as “awe” and have found that it promotes loving kindness, altruism, and enjoyment of the present moment. Awe allows us to value experiences much more than material items, and research indicates that these experiences promote more happiness. It’s that feeling we get when we stand and look at the ocean, a glorious canyon, or the winter night sky. We feel a sense of vastness–of being small in comparison to the rest of the universe–and that gives us goosebump feelings and fresh eyes.

Awe and wonder give us a beginner’s mind.

A beginner’s mind is what psychologists call the ability to look at a situation with fresh eyes. We are able to see details we’ve never seen before, like colors and sounds. It allows us to feel less anxious when we get out of our comfort zone because we allow ourselves to feel the excitement a child feels when doing something for the first time. And it can help us problem solve better at work because we look at obstacles from different perspectives and with a sense of inspiration.

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Cultivating wonder and awe

How can we bring this sense of wonder into our lives, particularly in the busy holiday season? The answer lies in the search for inspiration. Set time in your day or week to listen to a piece of soul-lifting music. Listen to an inspiring speech or TED Talk. Watch a feel good holiday movie. Take a walk in nature or through a local art gallery. Or participate in a community holiday event where you allow yourself to be a kid again.

St. Ignatius believed that it was important for people to use all of the senses when praying or reading a holy text, and research has shown that these type of sensory experiences, even in activities listed above, can help us to cultivate a sense of awe. Stop to notice the sights, smells, and sounds of the holiday and hold them in your heart.

Writing about awe-inspiring memories can elicit a similar effect as actually experiencing them.

Even if you don’t have the means or time to create an awe-inspiring experience, you can still get the positive effects of awe by writing about them in a journal. You can also create an “Awe Porfolio,” a scrapbook type of journal that showcases photos, objects, and your thoughts about an inspirational experience. You could even make a special holiday version. Creating and sharing your portfolio can give you a sense of loving-kindness and joy. What are you waiting for? Go get inspired!

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