The power of awe (and why we should schedule time to feel it) – a suggested podcast

© Zoe O’Neill

In a podcast published in March of last year from “The science of happiness”, guest Chris Duffy goes through a practice that helps people tap into a sense of awe. Awe is an emotion often described as a combination of fear and surprise, with a component of wonder or amazement. Awe is often conjured by being surrounded by something vast that one doesn’t immediately understand (1). Creating space for a sense of awe can allow you to connect with feelings of gratitude and ultimately contribute to a greater sense of happiness (2).

Scheduling time free of distractions to connect with a place “where you can be in touch with a sense of vastness” as Chris Duffy explained it, either by actively moving through that space, or sitting it in with awareness, is one way to tap into this emotion of awe. Awe can also be elicited by art or music. 

As discussed in this short podcast, the research into the impacts of cultivating awe is still in its infancy. However, there is an indication that “awe walks” amongst older adults promotes joy and prosocial behaviour (2). There are also the physical and emotional benefits of spending time outdoors.

After listening to this podcast, I have experimented making my walk to my clinical rotation (which happens to be up the side of mountain), part of a regular practice of cultivating awe. Despite having done this walk upwards of 20 times prior to trying this practice, I still managed to notice several new and awe-inspiring views during my walk. It was not so much that I had never noticed the giant ice-covered rock walls that tower over the road, but I had not allowed myself to be filled with such a strong sense of wonder and joy that you promote when you intentionally connect to your five senses and the scene around you. Awe is a complex emotion – it engenders more than just an amazement of vastness, but also provokes existential questions about meaning, purpose and connection. I have found this practice to create long-lasting feelings of gratitude that endure even the most demanding days in the hospital.

If this sounds like a practice that you could incorporate into your day, I encourage you to listen to the podcast and try it out yourself! Awe can happen spontaneously when we encounter something in our lives, but there is something to be garnered from practicing a sense of intentional openness to awe.


  • Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297–314.
  • Sturm, V. E., Datta, S., Roy, A. R. K., Sible, I. J., Kosik, E. L., Veziris, C. R., Chow, T. E., Morris, N. A., Neuhaus, J., Kramer, J. H., Miller, B. L., Holley, S. R., & Keltner, D. (2020). Big smile, small self: Awe walks promote prosocial positive emotions in older adults. Emotion. Advance online publication.

This article was written by Zoe O’Neill, a medical student at McGill University and member of the Mindful Medical Learner Team.

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