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 23 • 4:00 PM

Who Doesn’t Like Atheists?

The Pew Research Center asked Americans of varying religious affiliations how they felt about each other.


July 23 • 2:00 PM

We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm and Medical Mistakes Now

Top patient-safety experts call on Congress to step in and, among other steps, give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wider responsibility for measuring medical mistakes.


July 23 • 12:19 PM

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.


July 23 • 12:00 PM

Why Do We Love the ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ Game?

It’s easy enough to turn yourself into a virtual celebrity, complete with fame and mansions—but it will likely cost you.


July 23 • 11:49 AM

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.


July 23 • 10:00 AM

Outing the Death-Drug Distributors

Calling all hackers: It’s time to go Assange on capital punishment.


July 23 • 8:00 AM

The Surprising Appeal of Products That Require Effort to Use

New research finds they enable consumers to re-establish a feeling that they’re in control of their lives.



July 23 • 6:00 AM

How the Other Half Lifts: What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class

Why can’t triathletes and weightlifters get along?


July 23 • 5:02 AM

Battle of the Public Intellectuals: Edward Glaeser vs. Richard Florida

On gentrification and housing costs.


July 23 • 4:00 AM

Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 22 • 4:00 PM

Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?

Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.



July 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


July 22 • 9:32 AM

This Time, Scalia Was Right

President Obama’s recess appointments were wrong and, worse, dangerous.


July 22 • 8:00 AM

On Vegas Strip, Blackjack Rule Change Is Sleight of Hand

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. Is this a sign that Vegas is on its way back from the recession, or that the Strip’s biggest players are trying to squeeze some more cash out of visitors before the well runs dry?


July 22 • 6:00 AM

Label Me Confused

How the words on a bag of food create more questions than answers.


July 22 • 5:07 AM

Doubly Victimized: The Shocking Prevalence of Violence Against Homeless Women

An especially vulnerable population is surveyed by researchers.


July 22 • 4:00 AM

New Evidence That Blacks Are Aging Faster Than Whites

A large study finds American blacks are, biologically, three years older than their white chronological counterparts.



July 21 • 4:00 PM

Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?

All drugs are socially constructed.


July 21 • 2:14 PM

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

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