Menus Subscribe Search
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

July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


July 28 • 11:11 AM

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.


July 28 • 10:00 AM

Hell Isn’t for Real

You may have seen pictures of the massive crater in Siberia. It unfortunately—or fortunately—does not lead to the netherworld.


July 28 • 8:00 AM

Why Isn’t Obama More Popular?

It takes a while for people to notice that things are going well, particularly when they’ve been bad for so long.


July 28 • 7:45 AM

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.


July 28 • 6:00 AM

Hams Without Ends and Cats Tied to Trees: How We Create Traditions With Dubious Origins

Does it really matter if the reason for why you give money to newlyweds is based on a skewed version of a story your parents once told you?


July 28 • 4:00 AM

A Belief in ‘Oneness’ Is Equated With Pro-Environment Behavior

New research finds a link between concern for the environment and belief in the concept of universal interconnectedness.


July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



Follow us


Subscribe Now

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

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