Beyond Positivity: Why Awe May Be the Ticket to “Big-Picture” Thinking

Beyond Positivity: Why Awe May Be the Ticket to “Big-Picture” Thinking

Big-picture thinking is often difficult to achieve during the hustle and bustle of your daily life, but an awe mindset could be the golden ticket you’re looking for.

Psychologists have been studying the deep emotion of awe for over a decade, and they still haven’t agreed on a concrete definition. In most cases, awe is the feeling that naturally occurs when people encounter something that challenges their understanding of the world and provides a new perspective on things.

Most people associate awe with once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as standing on top of a mountain or winning a sports championship. These things certainly evoke strong emotions but are not the only sources of awe. You might not have noticed, but you encounter it several times daily.

Finding awe in the everyday

Awe is often at its greatest potency when found in everyday events. You just need greater emotional maturity to notice and appreciate it. You feel awe when you take your first sip of coffee in the morning, see the sun appear from behind the clouds or see someone do a good deed.

The same goes for negative everyday experiences. You feel awe when you witness a car accident or terrible thunderstorm, get into an argument with a loved one or something unexpected happens at work. These encounters amount to the same thought process of “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Awe has a unique dichotomy you can’t find in any other emotional experience. The “awesome” side of things can bring you great pleasure and fulfillment, while the “awful” side can feel dreadful and depressing. No other emotion has such a wide range of outcomes.

Why awe leads to big picture thinking

The dualistic nature of this powerful emotion is why an awe mindset leads to big-picture thinking. When you view the day’s events through this deeper lens, each experience feels more profound and you develop a greater taste for life as a result. You might not realize it, but you are laying the foundation for long-term improvements in your personal and professional worlds

Scientists theorize that ancient humans developed awe as an evolutionary response mechanism to unfamiliar situations. Rather than immediately panicking or going into self-defense mode, you can use awe to process new stimuli and learn from the experience. Awe is a powerful form of self-reflection that helps people grow as a group and as individuals.

Studies have shown that awe enhances creative thinking skills and helps people make better decisions. Going through awe-inspiring experiences provides fresh insights that allow approaching obstacles from new points of view. They aren’t always pleasant but are all necessary for mental, emotional and even social maturation.

Awe has also proven to induce more prosocial behavior that leads to better cooperation in large groups. It encourages the development of important qualities such as patience, gratitude, compassion and generosity. People can draw from awesome and awful experiences, put the current situation in perspective and find a solution that works for everyone. 

You can reap the benefits of an awe mindset in any social situation. In a professional setting, awe helps you make connections with your team and foster a healthy work environment. Leaders can inspire awe in their subordinates to keep them engaged and implement positive change. Stronger engagement directly leads to greater productivity.

Keeping an awe mindset at home helps you settle petty disputes with loved ones, share household responsibilities and strengthen familial bonds. When you’re constantly in awe of everything life offers, smaller issues in the home or workplace feel much more manageable.

Awe even comes into play when you’re in casual social situations. When you’re in awe of the moment, every second with your friends feels more special. You learn to cherish the time spent with them, which inspires you to make deeper connections.

An awe mindset also supports healthy lifestyle habits that reveal the bigger picture, including a minimalistic attitude and a greater willingness to assist others. Each experience helps you accept that the world doesn’t revolve around you, which pulls you away from selfish and materialistic pursuits. A life devoted to friends and family is a life worth living.

Awe isn’t just an emotion — it’s a diverse array of learning experiences. An awe mindset leads to big-picture thinking by helping you savor the here and now rather than stressing about the past or future. When you’re more immersed in the present, you make better decisions and can devote more energy to strengthening your relationships.

Actionable steps to develop an awe mindset

You must make big changes in your mentality and lifestyle to get the full benefits of an awe mindset. Here are some actionable steps you can take to develop this frame of mind and establish a solid foundation of big-picture thinking.

Take “awe walks”

The simplest and most effective way to achieve an awe mindset is to walk through awe-inspiring environments. Nature will always be the best place to find awesome experiences. Spending more time outdoors has been shown to lower stress and elevate moods among people with anxiety and depression. Nature is also the perfect retreat for silent contemplation.

Various human-made settings can have similar effects. Walking through visually stunning places such as museums, aquariums and historical sites will make you feel small and insignificant, but this feeling is crucial for big-picture thinking. You’re only on this planet for a short time, so you better make the most of it. 

Focus on aesthetics

You should also aim to improve the aesthetics of your home, workplace and vehicle. Bettering the appearance of these places will make the monotonous tasks of your daily routine more exciting. Here are some simple changes you can make:

  • Use indoor plants to introduce more colors and shapes.
  • Put more artwork around the house, especially in your bedroom.
  • Declutter your work desk and add more decorations.
  • Change the wallpaper on your phone and computer to an awe-inspiring image.
  • Make your car feel more luxurious with small modifications such as seat covers or a new air freshener.

Seeing, touching, hearing and smelling things that you find aesthetically pleasing leads to greater brain activity, which could explain why awesome experiences improve critical and creative thinking skills. Aesthetics is also important for emotional health, making people feel happy and calm in their everyday environments.

Consume and create inspirational content

Modern technology makes it hard to achieve big-picture thinking, but you can also use it to your advantage. Consume and create as much inspirational content as possible. Read self-help books or stories of great perseverance. Write about your daily experiences and try to derive meaning from them. Watch motivational videos to keep your mindset in a good place.

Music is the most effective form of content for experiencing the benefits of an awe mindset. Conveniently, there is a perfect example of this idea in action — researchers have compiled a playlist of 715 songs scientifically proven to change moods and give people chills. Turn on the playlist and experience the music for yourself.

Big picture thinking requires small changes

You don’t have to make sweeping lifestyle or career changes to have awesome experiences and see the bigger picture. On the contrary — big-picture thinking requires small changes to your mindset and environment. Follow these actionable steps to reap the benefits of an awe mindset and get a healthier perspective on life.


Today's post is a guest post from Beth Rush. 

Beth Rush is the Managing Editor at Body+Mind. She is a well-respected writer in the personal wellness space and shares knowledge on various topics related to mental health, self-improvement, and holistic health. In her spare time, Beth enjoys cooking and trying out new fitness trends. Connect with her on Twitter @bodymindmag.

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