Finding Meaning and Purpose: A Sense of Awe
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl
As we come to the end of another year, many of us reflect on our lives over the past 12 months and think about where we want to go over the next year. Too often (at least in my own case!)we find ourselves making the same list of “New Year Resolutions” each year, a list we completely abandon two weeks into the year. (Another reason to beat ourselves up!)
Sometimes it’s good to really take some time out around the end of the year to reflect on not only what do I want for the next year but what do I REALLY want out of the rest of my life? We’re talking about big hopes and big dreams here, the really important stuff that gives our lives meaning and purpose (not just dropping a dress size or taking some golf lessons… )
Why is this important? Research has shown over and over that having a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives is our most important emotional need. Our vision of our future self, or what we aspire to be over time, can affect our mental health, both positively or negatively. If we don’t have a positive vision of our future, if we become too self-absorbed and disconnected from our interconnections with others, we can become anxious and depressed and less able to relate to other people.
Research led by Paul Piff at UC Irvine in the US, found that if people experience a sense of AWE (a sensation of being a part of something much larger than themselves) it prompts them to behave more benevolently, in a more giving manner, towards others. This kind of awe-struck experience pulls you outside of yourself – you are able to temporarily “forget yourself”. And that expanded awareness that you are a part of, and interwoven with, something much larger than just your individual being carries over into behaving more positively and generous towards others. In these experiments, people reported that they had experienced a sense of awe by experiences such as looking at a starry sky or standing on a beach looking out to the sea or the view from a mountain top.
In one part of the study, people were shown clips of the documentary series Plant Earth: Piff says: “Even these minute droplets remind you of the intricacy and complexity of natural world, and in so doing bring about feelings of awe and the small self…that is one of the remarkable qualities of awe. You don’t have to climb a huge mountain and take in a grand view to feel it.”
Read more about the study here:
And take 13 minutes to watch this clip of nature at its finest while at the same time, building up your stores of awe!
The following four blogs continue the theme of finding meaning and purpose in our lives, including looking at the work of Viktor Frankl and how to do a simple exercise that gives you a Navigation Map for your life.
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Need some advice and support?
If you are at a point in your life where you would like some support while considering future options or would just like the chance to take time out for yourself and just talk about what is going on in your life in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.