Monday, March 17, 2014

Dr. Faulkner: Awe Struck

Have you ever experienced something that was totally awesome?  In current society that term gets used so much that it has lost some of its – well – awesomeness. I’ve had the good fortune to have many experiences that I would categorize as awesome.  As a bona fide tree-hugger, one awesome experience was to see the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park.  This is the largest tree in the world.  Another awesome experience happened when I was driving home from work one day.  A little girl with long, fine blond hair was running across a playground alongside the street.  Just as I passed, the sun shone through her blowing hair and golden framed the expression of childhood joy on her face.  That was awesome.

A research article that appeared in the journal Psychological Science and was mentioned in The Atlantic reported that people “who felt awe, relative to other emotions, felt they had more time available, were less impatient, were more willing to volunteer their time to help others, and more strongly preferred experiences over material goods.”  One of the authors, Kathleen Vohs, says that, “When you are in a state of awe, it puts you off balance and as a consequence, we think people might be ready to learn new things and have some of their assumptions questioned.”

So we might want to start making time for things that blow our mind.  Clearly we can’t travel to a distant location every day.  But there are multiple things we can do each day.  Gaze at the star filled sky.  View a work of art.  Watch a mind-bending You Tube video or a Ted Talk.  Spend some time closely observing nature. 

My daily experience often happens when I go out in the morning to retrieve the daily newspaper.  Even in my manicured neighborhood there are spectacular sunrises, and frost crystals on the grass, and birds flying, and an occasional snow flake drifting down, and the garden spider spinning her web so delicately.

And in the classroom, when was the last time we exposed students to something awesome?  I remember my high school chemistry teacher scaring half the class by demonstrating a dust explosion in a paint can.  The girl who sat in front of me was so affected that after that she flinched each time the teacher struck a match.

So look for awesomeness and be awesome!

-Dr. Jerry Faulkner

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