Growing up is hard enough. For today's youth, however, self-preoccupation, sadness and a general sense of hopelessness can make their adolescent years even more challenging. Fortunately, there are powerful tools we can use to help young people rediscover joy and contentment in their lives, chief among them being the feeling of awe.
Awe is the sensation of being in the presence of something greater than ourselves – something beautiful or powerful. Standing in front of a gorgeous sunset, watching a flower bloom, or contemplating how vast the universe is can trigger feelings of awe. Recent research suggests that awe has a profound impact on our physical, mental and emotional state. In fact, studies show that awe has a particularly positive impact on those still in the process of developing their identity such as young people.
In addition to lifting spirits and restoring hope, awe can also encourage young people to become less focused on themselves. Experiencing awe fosters compassion and altruism, which naturally causes people to think less about themselves and more about the world around them. Cultivating these emotions also helps young people break out of their limited perception of reality and allows them to have a bigger, broader view of the universe. As a result, they feel more connected to the wider community, less alone, and more hopeful for the future.
It's easy to be intimidated by the huge task of keeping a younger generation alive with awe. Fortunately, there are effective ways adults can foster this feeling in youth. From reading to sports, there are a variety of activities that kid of all ages can do to access their awe. Reading literature, listening to music, attending theater, utilizing the arts, playing sports, and exploring nature are all wonderful ways to stimulate an experience of awe in those who participate.
At the most basic level, simply taking the time to listen to youth and be present for them can make a big difference between kids feeling isolated and alone, and feeling part of something larger than themselves. Remind them that each person matters and that their contribution is invaluable. Where applicable, seek thoughtful experiences and read inspiring books together, as well as taking moments together to marvel at the wonders of life around you.
The importance of awe should not be overlooked when trying to help young people become less self-focused. Feelings of awe equate to increased optimism and enlightenment, benefitting not just the individual but the larger society as a whole. We owe it to the future of our planet to provide our youth a path that leads to connectedness and altruism, and experiencing awe is a powerful way to do just that.