3 Ways to Find Awe and Fight the Mid-Semester Slump

green, yellow-green, yellow, orange, red, and dark red maple leaves overlapping each other against wood background

When mid-semester hits, we often find ourselves searching for ways to calm our anxieties and refresh our energies. One potentially powerful intervention is to cultivate our experiences of awe.

University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross defines awe as “the wonder we feel when we encounter something powerful that we can’t easily explain.” Often the things that bring us awe have an element of vastness and complexity: Think of a starry night sky, an act of great kindness, or the beauty of something small and intricate. These moments of marvel give us more than just goosebumps; they help us tap into something larger than ourselves and, in the process, lower our heart rate under stress by silencing our mental chatter and worries. They can also increase our desire to connect with and help others.

Here are three ways to cultivate this sense of awe in your everyday life. Next time you’re feeling unmotivated or uninspired, we hope you’ll block off some time to try one.

1. Step away from your work and go on a short “awe walk”

A simple and powerful way to experience awe is to (if possible) step away from your computer or pause between classes and take an “awe walk.” Take 20 minutes to wander and be curious, observing the everyday beauty around you—even if in a familiar place such as your yard or neighborhood. Try to notice places and things you may typically rush past—a bee flitting from flower to flower, for example.

Even better, take an awe walk in a natural landscape. Research shows that walks in nature, compared to urban environments, have a greater positive effect on our mood and well-being. Nature is an immersive experience of growth and resilience; it can be a powerful source of wonder. Nature’s rhythms remind us that we are a part of the natural world, and we too are enduring.

2. Create an “awe playlist” of inspirational works

If you can’t step away, take advantage of the wonders at your fingertips on the web. Several studies have shown that videos can stimulate awe. Perhaps you’re inspired by documentaries such as Free Solo, Planet Earth, or My Octopus Teacher. Maybe Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” makes you tingle. The harmony and complexity of music or recorded live performances can also elevate and inspire awe.

Create your own personalized “awe playlist” of videos or music, and when you’re feeling stuck, spend a few minutes being drawn into what you’re seeing and hearing. Invite moments of awe by asking the simple question, “What’s beautiful here?”

3. Seek out positive stories about the human spirit

You can also tune into news outlets that spread good news—particularly acts of kindness, generosity, and perseverance. Keep a file of stories about the goodness, benevolence, and decency of the human race. Tap into it when you are feeling overwhelmed or depleted and want to be elevated. A simple story of one person making a difference can inspire you.

We spend much of our time as educators making our voices heard. It can feel counterintuitive to engage in something that may stimulate feelings of smallness. But doing so through a positive experience of awe can, in the end, bring us that sense of grounding we’re searching for, along with energy, inspiration, and resilience.

Read the full article by David P. Fessell and Karen Reivich.