What is ‘awe’ and do you need to travel do find it?

Best-selling author Brooke McAlary opens up to Body+Soul about the importance and impact awe can have in your life.

Have you ever had that feeling – when the sun peaks over the horizon, when autumn leaves rustle as you step on them, sitting on top of a mountain after a hike?

The one where your chest feels full and you feel like a tiny part of a huge and beautiful universe?

Speaking on Body+Soul’s daily podcast Healthy-ish best-selling author Brooke McAlary says that feeling is called ‘awe’ and it has amazing benefits for us as humans.

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“It really can be wondrous and it’s one of my favourite, favourite things that I kind of discovered writing the book. It’s essentially that goosebump feeling that you get when faced with something awe inspiring,” she tells host Felicity Harley on the Healthy-ish episode A refreshing approach to self-care (we approve!)

“It’s often nature, big nature. You think Uluru, the Grand Canyon. But it can also be something that you find in tiny details like, the smell of your baby’s head or a leaf unfurling, anything that that gives you that sense of wonder. There’s also this undercurrent of fear or trepidation that comes with awe, which is what sets it apart from all of those other solely positive emotions.”

McAlary explains that awe creates a sense of self-diminishment. Similar to when you look at the stars and realise that we’re on a big rock spinning in the middle of space and your brain gets that kind of ‘swoopy’ feeling.

It’s too big – too much to process, and can sometimes remind us that we’re just a small part of a connected world.

“A lot of the research was done by The Greater Good at UC Berkeley, and they have done a huge amount of study into the benefits. At top level it helps physically in terms of reduction in blood pressure and, you know, reducing stress hormones,” McAlary explains.

“But it also makes us more generous. It makes us more patient. It makes us more altruistic in our approach to strangers and people we know.”

“One of the things that I love the most about it is that it changes our relationship with time. People who experience awe feel like they have more time and I know that that’s something that the vast majority of us feel like we don’t have enough of.”

Essentially, you become aware of that feeling of being alive and being part of something much bigger it reduces that sense of urgency and hecticness we experience in every day life, and can offer a really great perspective on the world and our priorities.

However, while people often feel like they need to travel to experience this feeling of awe, McAlary says it is right under our noses in everyday life.

“Awe is something that we can find in tiny scale as well. Something as every day and mundane as our heartbeat or a breathing,” she explains.

“For example, the way we draw oxygen into our bodies through our nose and throat, into our lungs and how it moves into our bloodstream and then we breathe out the carbon dioxide. That’s basic science but we never think about it. And it is literally why we are alive…It might be a little fear inducing, you know, that one day we will stop breathing or one day our hearts will stop beating. But that’s the point. You know, that’s the point of all.”

You can find awe almost everywhere you look. Say the way the light filters through the trees when you’re gardening, your children, your pets, your morning walk.

The more you look for and recognise that feeling of awe, the more you’ll create a habit of it and reap the benefits.

“You subconsciously start to look for those experiences and you clock them. You’re like, that was awe. This is awe inspiring and I do feel different after that. Building that kind of self-knowledge and that awareness of it is really the way to create a habit of all,” she adds.

Brooke’s book Care (Allen & Unwin, $32.99) is available here. Follow her on Instagram @brookemcalary.