The idea of awe has become a much talked about phenomenon in the field of wellbeing and health, largely due to the work of Dr. Dacher Keltner. Keltner (2023) speaks of the transformative power of awe, which he defines as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world.” Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung was also talking about its power almost 100 years prior to this recent resurgence of interest in the concept. So there seems to be something important for us to glean from these academics.

Jungian psychology suggests that awe can be a transformative force

While Jung did not widely focus on awe as a singular topic, his broader theories focus on elements related to the experience of awe—he wrote extensively about “numinous” experiences that are indescribable. The numinous encompasses feelings of awe, fascination, and reverence in the presence of something perceived as sacred or greater than oneself. This could include encounters with nature, profound moments of insight, or religious and spiritual experiences.

Jungian psychology suggests that awe can be a transformative force, guiding individuals toward a more integrated and meaningful life by connecting them to the deeper layers of the psyche and the broader tapestry of human experience. Indeed, awe has been recognized throughout history as a powerful human emotion. While it may seem abstract and intangible, research suggests that experiencing awe can have significant positive effects on both mental and physical health. In what ways is it important for health?

One way in which awe influences mental health is by promoting a sense of humility. When individuals are exposed to something awe-inspiring, such as the beauty of nature or the vastness of the cosmos, it often triggers a realization of their own smallness in the grand scheme of things. This sense of humility can be humbling and grounding, reducing feelings of self-importance and promoting a more balanced and realistic self-perception. Sturm, et al (2022) offer that awe reduces self-focus, promotes social connection, and fosters prosocial actions by encouraging a “small self.”

The benefits of awe extend to social interactions and relationships

Thus, the benefits of awe extend to social interactions and relationships. Shared experiences of awe can strengthen social bonds and create a sense of shared humanity. Whether witnessing a breath taking natural phenomenon or experiencing a powerful work of art together, the shared experience of awe can deepen emotional connections and foster a sense of unity. Strong social connections are consistently associated with better mental and physical health outcomes, including increased longevity and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.

In addition to its impact on mental well-being, awe has been shown to have positive effects on physical health. One of the ways awe influences physical health is by reducing stress. Chronic stress has been linked to a variety of health issues, including cardiovascular disease, immune system suppression, and mental health disorders. Awe, with its ability to shift focus away from stressors and induce a state of wonder, has been found to lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress.

Awe can have a direct impact on the body’s physiological responses

Furthermore, the positive emotions associated with awe, such as joy and gratitude, can have a direct impact on the body’s physiological responses. Studies have shown that experiencing positive emotions is associated with improved cardiovascular health, immune function, and overall well-being. The awe-induced release of endorphins, often referred to as the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, contributes to these positive physiological effects.

Awe also has the potential to enhance creativity and cognitive flexibility. When individuals experience awe, their cognitive processes may be temporarily altered, leading to a more open-minded and creative mindset. This shift in cognitive processing can be beneficial in problem-solving and generating innovative ideas. By fostering a broader and more flexible perspective, awe may contribute to improved cognitive functioning and adaptability.

It is important to note that awe is a subjective experience, and what induces awe can vary widely among individuals. While natural wonders such as mountains and waterfalls are common triggers, awe can also be elicited through cultural experiences, art, music, and even moments of personal insight.

It seems therefore that awe can play a crucial role in promoting both mental and physical health. Its ability to shift perspective, reduce stress, enhance positive emotions, and strengthen social connections contributes to a holistic well-being. In a world often characterized by hustle and bustle, fostering opportunities for awe in our lives may be a key to cultivating a healthier and more fulfilling existence. Whether by spending time in nature, exploring artistic expressions, or cultivating a sense of gratitude for the mysteries of life, embracing awe can be a powerful and accessible tool for promoting health and well-being.


Keltner, D. (2023). The transformative power of wonder. Penguin: New York, NY.

Sturm, V. E., et al (2022) Big smile, small self: Awe walks promote prosocial positive emotions in older adults. Emotion, 22(5), 1044–1058


This article was first published in Northern Ireland Chamber Ambition magazine