Doing this 1 simple—yet unexpected—thing while walking can improve your health
Doing this 1 simple—yet unexpected—thing while walking can improve your health

Dacher Keltner is on a mission to fill our lives with more awe.

He has spent the past two decades studying awe, which he says is different from joy or fear, and how experiencing it can positively affect our bodies, our relationships with others, and how we see and interact with the world around us.

Keltner, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and director of the Greater Good Science Center, recently spoke with us — Raj Punjabi and Noah Mickelson, hosts of HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast — about his work, specifically why we should try to bring more reverence into our lives and what will happen if we do.

Listen to the episode by pressing the play button:

“Incredible! It tells us so much about the evolution of the human nervous system,” Keltner, author of Awe: The New Science of Everyday Miracles and How It Can Transform Your Life, told us. “An area of ​​the brain is disabled [when we experience awe] — the network in default mode. This is where all the processes of self-presentation take place: I think about myself, my time, my goals, my aspirations, my checklist. It subsides in awe.’

Reverence activates our vagus nerve. It’s “the big bundle of nerves starting at the top of your spinal cord that helps you look at people and vocalize,” Keltner explained, and also “slows down our heart rate, helps with digestion, and opens up our bodies to things, greater than us.”

“Reverence also cools the inflammatory process,” Keltner said, which his studies show. “It’s part of your immune system that attacks disease, and we want it to be cooler, not always hot.”

So how do we experience more awe? Keltner, who was a science advisor behind Pixar’s Inside Out, said it could be as simple as taking what he calls an “awe walk.”

He and several colleagues studied this experience to learn more about awe and what happens when we feel it.

″[The study involved] people who were 75 or older, so you start to worry and feel depressed about the end of life [and you’re experiencing] more bodily pain,” Keltner said. “The control condition – once a week they went for a walk. Our ‘awe walk’ condition we said, ‘You know, when you’re on a walk, go to some place where you might feel a little like a child and look around – see the little things and see the big things and just follow that feeling of mystery and wonder.’ That’s all we asked them to do.

Keltner explained that finding awe and wonder on a walk (or anywhere else) can be as simple as stopping and noticing the world around us—from something as seemingly small as a flower that has just bloomed. to something as big as a sunset stretched across the whole sky. Other sources of awe include what he calls “moral beauty”—witnessing the goodness or kindness or generosity of other people—or listening to music, looking at art, and thinking about big ideas, all of which can happen during on an “awe walk”.

Keltner said they found “three really cool things” when they compared the results of the control group to the “awe walk” group.

“During the eight weeks [of the study], [the ‘awe walk’ group] began to feel more and more in awe. So as we look for awe, we find more of it, which I think is really important. … These people – aged 75 or older – felt less pain and suffering over time. Chronic pain and pain as you get older is serious. It just blows your mind, and here’s a little technique that gave them some peace of mind.

Scientists have also documented what Keltner calls the “disappearance of the self.”

“Every week we had [the study participants] took a picture of themselves and what we found was, [those in the study who were going on the awe walk] start moving away to the side [of the] photo. Somehow they disappear! What that tells us is that their consciousness is—they’re not thinking, “Okay, this is my face, and I see it perfectly positioned in the picture.” They become more interested in the larger scene they’re part of and lose sight of themselves, and that’s important – it’s important to expand our attention to things outside of ourselves.”

Ultimately, Keltner argues, the more awe and wonder people experience at any age, the better off they will be.

“It [creates] an amazing cascade of physiology that we can discover almost every day and it’s very good for you,” he told us.

We also discussed what Keltner calls “the eight wonders of life,” how reverence can act as an antidote to narcissism, and much more.

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