Feeling awe makes people less selfish, less egocentric

๐Ÿ’Œ Newsletter

Awe is good for you. Awe is good for politics.

Here is my weekly newsletter on politics & personal development - where I explore the mindsets & tools to thrive in politics.

If you know someone who would find the content helpful, feel free to forward it.

Also check out my podcast, deep dive articles, book notes, and quizzes on leadership style and leadership traps.

Now, let's jump into it...

When was the last time you were in awe?

You were in wonder...
You had an experience that you did not predict...
You were moved to tears or felt tingles down your spine...
You said 'wow' or 'woah'...

In our daily grind, surrounded by concrete jungles, screens, a full schedule and endless to-do lists, feeling awe seems out of reach.

So, why should you care? What is awe good for?

There are many reasons, let me focus on one:

Awe makes people less selfish and less egocentric.

When I read a book like 'Awe' by psychologist Dacher Keltner, my perspective typically is: what does it mean for personal growth? And for politics?

Now, imagine a world where we are less selfish: we consider the needs and interests of other people more often. Imagine a world where people are less egocentric: we take the perspective of others, don't relate everything to ourselves. Imagine politics with less selfish and less egocentric people...

A world where we feel awe, more often, could nudge us to that world & that kind of politics.

How so?

Awe induces a sense of 'small self' relative to nature, music, community, mysteries and epiphanies about the world. We get a sense that there is something more vast and more powerful than our self, that we are not the center of the universe, but also that we are somehow connected to that vastness.

In turn, studies show that 'small self' leads to more generosity, ethical decision-making and prosocial behaviour (Study).

In one study, participants were immersed in an awe-inspiring environment: they spent 1 minute looking up at towering eucalyptus trees; a control group spend 1 minute looking up at an average building.

After 1 minute, the experimenter came back and dropped a box of pens 'by accident'.

Participants in awe condition were more helpful in picking up the pens. In their survey responses, they also exhibited greater ethical tendencies and less entitlement.

This study shows that awe is not out of reach. Feeling awe is not reserved for holiday or distant places.

As the researchers conclude:

"That these effects emerged after a brief treatment condition (1 min looking at trees) indicates that even fleeting experiences of awe can have a meaningful impact on various types of prosocial judgments and behavior." (Study, p. 895)

It may take deliberate practice and focus, but we can and do experience awe in everyday life.

I'm trying to get a regular dose of awe in my life. What environment or activity would cause you to feel awe?

And: what would change in politics if we felt awe more often...

p.s. feeling awe is also good for your mental and physical health

p.p.s. I'm finishing up my book notes on 'Awe' and will share in the next newsletter. In the meantime, find more on Berkeley's awe research here (you can even take an awe quiz).

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ My latest podcast

I recorded a podcast episode on 7 ideas that change how you do politics. It's based on last week's newsletter.

7 ideas that change how you do politics
About the episode Over the last 2 years of politicwise, 7 ideas emerged as critical for doing politics differently, and showing up as the best version of yourself, in the political arena: 1. Power makes you egocentric, but you can do something about it 2. Powerlessness is a fertile soil

If you prefer to read and find links to further resources: I've also written a deep-dive article:

7 ideas that change how you do politics
โ€œIdeas shape the course of historyโ€ - John Maynard Keynes โ€œThe value of an idea lies in the using of it.โ€ - Thomas Edison Over the last 2 years of politicwise, 7 ideas emerged that help change how we do politics: * Power makes you egocentric, but you can do something

๐Ÿ“š What I read & listen to

The social psychologist Dacher Keltner is one of my favourite authors. As you can tell from today's newsletter, I'm still digesting his book 'Awe'.

What I found awesome: how little attention we give to the emotion of awe but how important it is. So important, that Keltner sees the key to happiness in life in finding awe in everyday experiences.

From a foremost expert on the science of emotions, a ground-breaking exploration into the history, psychology and meaning of awe Social psychologist Dacher Keltner has spent his career speaking to different groups of people, from schoolchildren to prisoners to healthcare workers, about the good life. These conversations and his pioneering research into the science of emotion have convinced him that happiness comes down to one thing: finding awe. Awe allows us to collaborate with others, open our minds to wonder, and see the deep patterns of life. In his new book, Keltner presents a radical investigation into this elusive emotion. Drawing on his own scientific research into how awe transforms our brains and bodies, alongside an examination of awe across history, culture and within his own life during a period of immense grief, Keltner shows us how cultivating wonder leads us to appreciate what is most humane in our human nature. The book includes intensely moving, deeply personal stories of awe from people all over the world - doctors and veterans, environmentalists and filmmakers, indigenous scholars and hospice workers, ministers and midwives, poets and prisoners. At turns radical and profound, Awe is our field guide for how to uncover everyday wonder as a vital force within our lives.

๐Ÿ–‹๏ธ My favourite quote

โ€œThe epiphany of awe is that its experience connects our individual selves with the vast forces of life. In awe we understand we are part of many things that are much larger than the self.โ€ - Dacher Keltner in Awe, p. 250