Irrational Love of the Word (and Experience) of Awesome

March 04, 2014 by John Andrew Williams

Thought of the Day: I Cultivate My Experience of Awesome

Perhaps I’ve overused the word awesome in these blog posts. I’m open to suggestions on a better word but in the meantime, I’m going to dig into it a little deeper. For these next two week, let’s turn our attention to the Positive Psychology treatment of the word Awe.

Awe is a beautiful word with a beautiful meaning. Alas, awesome, which comes from the word awe which doesn’t have its ancestry in Latin or ancient Greek. It’s unfortunate that not all the good words come from the Classics. However, awe points to an experience that we human beings share. It basically means being completely impressed.

(And I just can’t help myself with the Latin etymology. It’s one of the primary reasons I studied Latin and ancient Greek in college. The word completely means filled up and impressed means pushed in. Awe literally affects our whole being. I don’t know about you, but when I feel awe my whole being feels it.)

Awe and appreciation of beauty has a rich, ancient scholarly tradition. From Plato and Aristotle to Longinus and Plotinus, the human response to beauty has earned the attention of some of the brightest minds.

From a perspective of Positive Psychology, Awe involves both a perceiver and a stimulus. (I know, those words make Awe sound complex yet perhaps a little naughty.) In terms of stimuli, Awe, has three categories:

1. Physical beauty. Consider nature, especially views and landscapes.

2. Skill or talents. I could get lost for hours on YouTube if I didn’t have a challenging to-do list in all those gopro movies of people doing crazy athletic stuff.

3. Virtue of moral decisions. Stories or first-hand encounters of people who displayed tremendous power or unusual ability. For instance, Nelson Mandela’s ability to forgive and lead his people after spending over 20 years in prison.

Turning our attention to the perceiver of awe, it appears that your ability to appreciate and feel awe is a strength. And your ability to experience awe, and its accompanying feelings of transcendence, is unique to you.

I also believe that your ability to experience awe and transcendence is a skill or muscle that can be strengthened with practice.

What are your thoughts on awe?

Also read: Why Awe Is at the Core of Your Life

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