Want more time? Experience more awe

Want more time? Experience more awe.

In this fascinating video from the Stanford Business School, PhD candidate Melanie Rudd does a tremendous job of unpacking the experience of awe, pointing out its relationship "to a boost in life satisfaction," and that it "alters decision making" in ways that promote cohesion, empathy, warmth and solicitude.

But it's the why that interests me.

She suggests "perceptual vastness" as one of the key drivers of awe. That vastness could be physical - think of watching the sun set, or of lingering beneath a dark night sky pricked by thousands of nearby suns. Or it could be abstract. I've often wondered what it must feel like to read a page of equations and realize that the math describes a particular topology, or suggests vanishingly small folds in the time and space we know so well. The fact that mere symbols accurately describe celestial mechanics, or might portend discoveries yet to be made, should startle anyone paying attention.

Even more importantly, those awe-inspiring realizations, as Rudd points out, create "a need for accommodation," the desire to understand, to interpret and to incorporate the knowledge that awe heralds. We want more.

That means that awe is fleeting. If the knowledge gained hardens into a legalism unable to incorporate new revelation, the rights inherited sui juris no longer illuminate - they appeal to rules alone, not to the beating heart the rules represent. In unique ways, the existentialism of Sartre, the phenomenology of Husserl and the mysticism of Sufis and Pentecostals alike, prioritize experience over rule following.

There is a biological advantage to being awestruck.

Many of us can also relate to being so absorbed by a particular activity that we've lost track of time. Musicians and puzzle solvers can routinely recall moments of particular clarity that emerge from this immersion in the moment. That feeling of "flow," described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is especially conducive to creativity, and is being explored by any number of people and organizations, including, of course, one doctoral candidate at the Stanford Business School.

"Experience more awe" is easier said than done, yes. But a good place to start might be with the following: When was the last time you were completely absorbed by an activity?

Go from there.

Wayne