"Awesome" is a word which is thrown around liberally these days, but a new study [PDF] suggests that things that inspire awe — that is, a feeling of respect mixed with fear or wonder — actually help make you a better person.
The research [PDF], carried out at Stanford University by Melanie Rudd, shows that a sense of awe expands people's perceptions of time, enhances feelings of well-being, and even causes people to behave more altruistically and less materialistically.
In particular, she explains in her paper [PDF] that's due to be published in Psychological Science later this year, the most significant effects are achieved when people are presented with new awe-inducing experiences. While reliving previous awe-inspiring events or reading about imaginary ones has some positive effect, being there, as something amazing happens, is best for you.
But how can your inject more awesome into your life? Rudd has some suggestions:
"There are two things needed for a true awe experience: 1) Perceptual vastness (i.e., you need to perceive that you've encountered something vast in number, size, scope, complexity, or social bearing) and 2) A need for accommodation (i.e., you must feel that you need to revise or update your mental structures/the way you think/your understanding of the world in order to understand the perceptually vast thing/stimuli). So anything you experience in daily life that leads you to experience these two things can stimulate awe and its benefits. And the things that elicit these two things and, as a result, awe, can differ from person to person. However, there are some things that seem to more frequently elicit awe-experiencing nature, being exposed to art or music, and observing the accomplishments of others. Things like social interactions and personal accomplishments seem to be less likely to elicit awe. And I imagine that just putting yourself in new situations, in new places, and encountering new people would increase your chances of experiencing awe."