Looking at awe-inspiring art could lead to a happier and healthier life


Experts believe that constant seeking out awe-inspiring experiences could lead to a significantly happier and healthier life. People can find awe in various forms, including nature, religion, music, visual art, and architecture. Dr. Dacher Keltner, who has been studying human emotion for decades, suggests that awe is the key to initiating contemplation, and imagination.

The Power of Awe

Keltner is a co-founder and director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. His book, “Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life,” explores the social, physical and mental benefits of awe. By studying the influence of this emotion in history, culture and his own life, he explores how reverence transforms our brain and body.

Dr. Keltner approaches awe from an anthropological perspective, exploring how this emotion shapes our social life. The power of awe motivates people to see beyond their own desires, which “quiets the voice of the self” and, consequently, makes them  share their emotions with other people.

Mapping Emotions with Google Arts and Culture

In 2021, Dr. Keltner and other researchers partnered with Google Arts and Culture to map the emotions that users reported when looking at 1,500 different artworks online. Participants reported that some 60 artworks made them feel some level of awe, describing these works as “mysterious,” “striking,” “cosmic,” “spiritual.

Slowing Down and Being Receptive to Surroundings

Most importantly, Dr. Keltner urges people to slow down and be receptive to their surroundings. By doing so, they can look for things that challenge their scale, both small and vast.  

“Look for things that challenge your scale, both small and vast — anything from a pattern created by flowers near the sidewalk to the silhouette of your city’s skyline on your commute”, he says. By seeking out awe-inspiring experiences, people can get social, physical, and mental benefits.

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