Contributed by Beth Rush
When did life’s delicate, ephemeral beauty
last move you to tears? If you can’t remember when something deeply stirred
your soul, you must learn how to evoke awe.
Many people lose sight of how miraculous their existence is amid the hustle and bustle of paying bills and rushing from the office to their child’s soccer practice. When this occurs, they can also start to forget why they do what they do. This sense of meaninglessness can drive despair.
Getting back in touch with what matters through awe-inspiring experiences may cure many of humanity’s ills, including your present distress. It’s time to rethink its power and harness it to trigger your life’s purpose.
How often have you looked forward to something and thrown all your effort into preparing for it, only to feel disappointed? Many people fall victim to the rat race mentality, believing they’ll find happiness after their next big achievement, the next bonus payout.
However, what people often pursue is really a quick dopamine hit. Once the initial rush wears off, they feel let down, disappointed and depressed. They may even say things like, “What’s the point? Nothing matters, anyway.” You win the corner office but grumble about your new responsibilities, hours or colleagues.
Neurochemistry, Dopamine and Awe
The answer to what drives people to do what they do may lie in the brain. Many people associate the neurotransmitter dopamine with pleasure, but this chemical is more about memory formation and motivation than happiness. It’s essentially your body’s “do that again” or “don’t do that again” messenger.
Certain activities feel good by providing rewards; it could be eating something delicious, hugging a friend or listening to your favorite music. This is why hospitality businesses get music for pubs and sports bars playing inside their establishments—they know that providing customers with those feel-good chemicals will lead to increased mood, and as a result, more sales!
Now, rewards are awesome and all, but your brain craves one thing above all — homeostasis. It’s the state of having all its chemicals in balance.
That’s why drugs like alcohol that bind to your dopamine receptors can create tolerance and become addictive. Your brain tries to lower its out-of-control dopamine levels when not on the substance, but doing so makes you feel too lousy and unmotivated to do anything but get more of what you crave.
Your brain releases dopamine from positive experiences, too. You get a “fix” when you achieve something, such as a promotion or house purchase. However, this substance’s effects are short lived. It’s much harder to get a second home or score another raise than to buy a bottle of vodka. How do you maintain long-term happiness when dopamine — your dubious “pleasure” chemical — returns to normal levels? That’s where awe comes in.
What Is Awe, Anyway?
Awe is hard to define. The dictionary says it means “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder.” It’s better seen in examples such as the following:
How Awe Is Good for You
Awe is far more lasting than a dopamine hit. It’s realizing how remarkable it is that life exists and that you play a moving role in its neverending story. It can trigger your life’s purpose when you follow that thought down its logical chain — what part do you want to play in this grand theater?
However, awe has concrete health benefits, too. One study from 2015 showed experiencing it and feeling more positive about your part in life lowers levels of inflammatory cytokines, which often accompany chronic disease flares. Letting awe trigger your purpose could help you live longer by protecting your body’s immune system.
Awe sounds, well, awesome. However, how can you cultivate, nurture and invite more of it into your life to trigger your purpose?
In two words — slow down. Think of cultivating awe like seeing a gorgeous vista. It’s impossible to take in the scenery when speeding down the highway at 75 miles per hour. You experience much more when you slow down and stroll.
However, slowing down is much easier said than done, especially in a society that values speed and progress above all else. How can you learn to relax and find how awe triggers life’s purpose? The following activities can help.
How to Evoke Awe to Trigger Your Life’s Purpose
These six activities can help you slow down, inspire awe and discover your life’s purpose.
1. Turn to Nature
Humanity rose to life amid green, growing things, not concrete and steel. Multiple studies show the healing power of nature for your body and mind. Spending more time in it can trigger awe and help you find your purpose.
Go to your favorite natural spot and simply be. Observe the clouds crossing the sky or marvel at the organization of ants on their hills. If you hike, let your legs wander freely instead of trying to set a new fitness record on your Apple watch.
2. Ride the Wayback Machine
What did you love most as a child? Doing it as an adult can show you how awe triggers life’s purpose.
Perhaps you couldn’t get enough of training your dolls. Could you seek a degree in teaching, or offer adult education classes through your local library or parks and recreation department? If you couldn’t get enough of boats, perhaps your destiny lies at sea on a cruise ship or hauling in a healthy catch.
3. Consult With Others
You probably heard plenty of lectures on “what you should do when you grow up” as a child. However, humans are naturally social and others can often see clues to your life’s purpose you may overlook.
Ask those close to you what they think you’re good at and what they could see you doing. How does their vision mesh with yours? If they mention something inspiring, put your heads together and brainstorm a way to make it a reality.
4. Engage in Your Hobbies
Hobbies are often clues to your passions and purpose in life. They’re what you would do if you didn’t have to worry about money, but is there any way to make them profitable?
You don’t have to monetize your hobbies to have them fit your life’s purpose. However, many people find they lack the time to pursue their passions when working full-time, so siphoning them into a meaningful career can bring you great happiness and satisfaction.
5. Follow the Love
Most everyone experiences positive emotions. Where does your heart lie?
Marveling at love’s existence can demonstrate how awe triggers life’s purpose like few other things. Think of someone you care about deeply — it might even be a pet. How do you explain the connection between you? Your relationships are often what make life worth living, and learning how to best serve those you love can fill you with a sense of purpose.
6. Go Deep
Spend time in meditation each day. It need not be long — many first-time meditators find a single minute feels like hours.
Observe your breath. You inhale, experiencing a brief pause before each exhale. Isn’t it remarkable how you must completely let go of your last breath before enjoying the next? Yet, the next breath inevitably follows. What insights does this give you into the nature of creation? What mysteries does the simple act of breathing reveal?
You will find through meditation that the greatest insights often come when you try to think of nothing. What does this apparent contradiction reveal about reality’s nature? Listen without hearing.
Awe is an often overlooked emotional state. However, experiencing it can trigger your life’s purpose.
The activities above can help you cultivate awe, and uncover your purpose and meaning in life. Slow down, take in all the magic and mystery of life and decide what role you want to play in greater creation.
by Beth Rush • Managing Editor at Body+Mind