Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


awenotext

Free Your Mind: Experience Awe, Have More Time

• October 08, 2012 • 4:00 AM

If it feels like the day isn’t long enough to do everything you’d like, research suggests adding a dash of wonder to stretch out the moment.

I don’t tend to budget a lot of time for trolling YouTube. But the other day, I cashed in four minutes and twenty-three seconds to watch a video my husband sent me: a short film in which the Scottish cycling wunderkind Danny MacAskill pedals around San Francisco, performing acrobatic feats that make you consider the urban landscape in a whole new way.

I’m your typical time-crunched working mother, my day jammed with day-care pickups and drop-offs, writing, meal prep, chasing an energetic 2-year-old boy. Squeezing in the bare necessities of my personal happiness—a daily swim, a real conversation with my husband, and a bedtime book (or three) with my son—is an ongoing struggle. Yet somehow, marveling at MacAskill didn’t feel like a waste. Instead, it made me feel light, sort of suspended. Why?

Psychologists at Stanford and the University of Minnesota may have an explanation: awe. Time may fly when you’re having fun. But it crawls—in the best way possible—when you glimpse the Grand Canyon, watch someone perform an incredible athletic feat, or listen to a masterful piece of music. That, in turn, may help us make better choices.

In the psychologists’ study, published this summer in Psychological Science, participants were shown commercials, then asked questions about time. Those who watched awe-inducing videos—which showed things like waterfalls, whales, and astronauts in space—or were asked to recall an awe-eliciting experience reported feeling more time-rich and less impatient. The group was more likely to say that they would volunteer their time to help others, since they felt less pressure from the clock. And they were more likely to report that they felt satisfied with life. (Here, awe is defined as “the emotion that arises when one encounters something so strikingly vast that it provokes a need to update one’s mental schemas.”)

According to lead researcher MelanieRudd, our perception of time availability has a big impact on our actions: whether we choose to stop and help someone instead of rush past, whether we cook a family meal or grab fast food, whether we opt to enjoy an experience instead of the cheap gratification of buying something. “[E]xperiencing awe heightens people’s focus on the present,” Rudd told me. “It captivates people’s attention with what is currently happening with them and around them.” By eliciting the feeling that time is more plentiful, awe may make you more productive—and, in turn, life will be more satisfying. If this bears out, it could be particularly important for the more than half of all Americans who say they feel they lack enough time in daily life.

In their experiments, Rudd and her colleagues found that awe is very distinct from happiness. Though both are positive emotions, happiness doesn’t expand your sense of time (and cause these resulting behaviors) the way awe does. Altruistic behavior, however, may affect us in a way similar to awe: studies suggest that when we help people, we also feel like we have more time—instead of wasting the hours at our disposal, we are accomplishing something with them.

As Rudd recognizes, there are possible drawbacks: a perceived increase of time availability might encourage procrastination. (Maybe I can watch two MacAskill videos before getting back to work!) Her follow-up research will explore how shifting perceptions of time can impact productivity, task performance, and creativity.

Rudd says that putting yourself in new situations, going to new places, and meeting new people helps increase your chances of encountering awe.

Or you can just go on YouTube. Tell your boss you’re not wasting time—you’re making it.

Bonnie Tsui
Bonnie Tsui writes frequently for the New York Times. She is working on a collection of essays about swimming.

More From Bonnie Tsui

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.