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How Awe Transforms Us – and How to Create More of It for Your Kids

This past summer’s Fourth of July fireworks were more spectacular than usual. My four-year-old daughter was seeing them for the first time in her life, and I was blown away by her reaction.


She was laughing, yelling out joyously at each new decoration in the sky, and even shaking in her chair. Witnessing her remarkable response allowed me to view that moment through her young eyes — to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.   

We sometimes have special moments in life that are so profound we don’t even know how to describe them. Maybe you just spotted a rainbow, watched a video about our expansive universe, or witnessed the birth of your child. The emotion you feel is hard to grasp — an overwhelming mix of wonder, joy, and sometimes even fear.

These moments are so exhilarating that we get goosebumps on our arms, feel tingling up and down our spine, tears flood our eyes, and our jaw drops.

This is called awe. Awe is an emotion that has a powerful effect on our body and mind. It’s a feeling very hard to put into words. David Delgado, a visual strategist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and co-founder of the Museum of Awe who spoke at the Greater Good Science Center’s recent Art and Science of Awe conference, describes awe as an instant when you can’t quite grasp something. “It feels like magic, amazement, mystery, reverence. It’s the moment when we realize it’s a gift and privilege to be alive.”

How we feel awe

Awe has been addressed throughout history by the amazing works of great writers and scientists like Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and John Muir. However, researchers have only recently begun to study how awe impacts our well-being.

In a key 2003 paper, “Approaching Awe, A Moral, Spiritual And Aesthetic Emotion,” psychologists Dacher Keltner of University of California, Berkeley (now the director of the Greater Good Science Center) and Jonathan Haidt of New York University presented how awe works and the effects it has on us. They found that awe consists of two core qualities:

  1. Perceived vastness — something we think to be greater than ourselves in number, scope, or complexity,
  2. It challenges or alters our understanding of the world.

Awe allows us to transcend the ordinary, tests our concept of time and scale, gives us the sense of being small in a grand universe, and helps us to truly be in the moment.

Awe can be triggered by different things for different people. It can result from profound beauty; spending time in nature; feeling connected to others; remarkable human accomplishments; scientific discoveries; or great works of architecture, art, and music. According to award-winning cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg who created the Gratitude Revealed film series, “It doesn’t matter what pathway it takes, or what your belief system is, or what the story is. We just want to feel it. What is important is…to be moved.”

How awe transforms us

On average, we feel awe only about two-and-a-half times per week, Dacher Keltner explains. As our culture becomes more self-focused and over-worked, awe provides an amazing tool to instill a deeper sense of worldliness, kindness, and peace in our children. Recent research shows that awe can make us happier and healthier in a number of significant ways.

1 | Broadens social connection

Awe changes our perspective of the world. We feel smaller and as though we are in the presence of something greater than ourselves. A study at the University of California, Berkeley concluded that awe makes us lose our awareness of “self” and feel more connected to the world around us. This helps get rid of dangerous “us versus them” thinking. Additionally, when we witness a remarkable moment, we want to share it with other people, causing us to bond with family, friends, and even strangers.

2 | Stimulates curiosity

When we observe something awesome — like images of Earth from space, a fascinating science experiment, or a talented athlete — we want to learn more about how it’s all possible. Curiosity is so critical to children’s growth and success. Even though their constant questions may be trying at times, it is ultimately what we want them to do so they’re always craving new knowledge. What’s even more incredible is that people who are curious tend to get along better with others.

3 | Expands creativity

Awe inspires us to be more creative because we begin to view the world in a broader sense. This expansive thinking helps us consider new perspectives and see beyond our present situation. In a 2012 study from Tel Aviv University, one group of children was asked to look at a series of photos, starting with basic everyday objects and then shifting to vast or faraway things like the Milky Way galaxy. The other group was shown the same images but in the opposite order. The children who saw the objects from small to expansive performed significantly better on creativity tests.

4 | Leads to kindness and generosity

Paul Piff, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at University of California, Irvine, has found that “awe boosts a person’s generosity, willingness to help others, willingness to behave in ethical ways, to take on needs of others, and de-prioritize their own needs. Awe connects us to things larger than ourselves and motivates us to care for others and the collective good.”

His experiments prove that when people experience a moment of awe, they tend to be more generous. He had participants first either look up into tall, beautiful trees or at a large building. They then came across a person who needed assistance. Those in the tree group were more apt to help to the person in need.

5 | Changes our perception of time

In our hectic 24/7 lifestyle, don’t you wish we had more time? Awe has been shown to give us the illusion that we do have more time and no longer need to rush. A 2012 Stanford University study published by Psychological Science found that participants who watched awe-inspiring videos featuring whales, waterfalls, and other nature scenes were more likely to report feeling like they had more time.

6 | Guides us to find our purpose in life

Positive psychology researchers have discovered that people who have a clear purpose in life experience less pain and anxiety and are less depressed. By being connected to something larger than ourselves through awe, we are more likely to be inspired and motivated to face new challenges and reach our goals. Research shows that children who grow up with a sense of purpose are typically happier, have a more successful career, and have stronger relationships later in life.

7 | Makes us grateful

Awe gives us a sense of hope and the ability to see the bigger picture. It teaches us that there might be something magical in everyday life that we can be grateful for. Louie Schwartzberg says that, “Awe inspires us to open our hearts and minds to engender gratitude.”

8 | Improves our immune system

Researchers at Berkeley have discovered that awe reduces the level of pro-inflammatory proteins (called cytokines) that cause our immune system to work harder. This is important because high levels of cytokines cause illness. “That awe, wonder, and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions…has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” suggested Dacher Keltner, co-author of the study.

9 | Reduces anxiety and depression

Feelings of awe boost our mood. Our nervous system reacts in the opposite way to awe than anxiety. Instead of the “fight or flight” response kicking in, awe keeps us still and relaxed, benefiting both our body and mind. Additionally, elevated cytokines have been linked to depression. As discussed earlier, awe reduces these cytokine proteins, therefore reducing depression.

 

Ways to help our children experience awe

The world offers so many opportunities for us to feel awe, but how can we capture these moments for our children? The key is to seek out experiences that 1) involve a sense of vastness and 2) alter their perspective.

Fortunately, children are born with a sense of wonder and amazement. “They are naturally curious and interested, with a great imagination and a special ability to see beauty and good all around them,” explains Dr. Brenda Abbey, educational consultant and director of Childcare by Design in Australia.

However, children need direction from their parents who can share these moments with them. “We need to model, identify, respond to, preserve, nourish, enrich, and sustain these special moments in our lives.”

By visiting, recording, viewing, and listening, our children will be exposed to many potential awe-inspiring moments. To make the most out of these experiences, take the time to ask your children how these encounters make them feel. Reflection reinforces the positive energy and encourages curiosity.

Andy Tix, professor at Normandale Community College in Minnesota who writes about awe on his blog Reflections on Mystery and Awe, notes that “awe seems more likely to thrive in an environment of inquisitiveness and questioning.” So ask lots of questions and allow your children to do the same.

1 | Visit

In order for children to truly understand awe, they need to experience it. Andy Tix believes that travel provides endless opportunities for awe because we are exposed to stimuli that are out of our typical routine. He suggests families take “awecations,” instead of just vacations, to places that can inspire awe. If you can’t get away, look for local spots to explore. Remember to consider your child’s age, interest, and attention span when you choose where to take them.

We can find awe just about anywhere. Here are a few ideas for your next awe adventure:

Nature: zoos, mountains, forests, hiking trails, beaches, waterfalls, clear starry nights, sunsets, sunrises, botanical gardens, canyons, caves

Urban: historical monuments, skyscrapers, subway systems, large sports stadiums

Indoor: libraries; art, science, and history museums; cathedrals; concerts; musicals and other performances; planetariums; aquariums

2 | Record

Writing: Developing an awe narrative is an effective way for children to capture an awe-inspiring moment. Julie Mann, high school teacher in Queens, New York who also spoke at The Art and Science Of Awe conference, added journal writing to her curriculum as a way for students to reflect about awe for time, space, amazing events, and people who impact their lives.

Artwork: Ask your children to create their own masterpiece to reflect something that brought them awe. Tap into their talents using drawing, photography, painting, sculpture, or collage.

3 | View

Media: If you are unable to visit a place in person, the next best thing is to observe it using various media tools such as videos, photographs, slideshows, and even 3D or 4D movies at an IMAX theater. Images of nature’s beauty, such as sunrises, sunsets, weather events, and rainbows, tend to easily evoke feelings of awe. Check out these nature documentaries, Jason Silva’s Shots of Awe, and Louie Schwartzberg’s Gratitude Revealed.

Science experiments: Observing the incredible way science works can be quite powerful for a young child and pique their interest to learn more.

4 | Listen

Stories: Read awe-inspiring books, poetry, and short stories to your children, such as biographies about great heroes and descriptions of nature, scientific discoveries, great places, and historical events.

Music: Listen to touching music or play your own. From piano ballads of the great composers to rap songs about changing the world, your child will discover what moves them.

Awe offers so many ways for our children to prosper in this challenging world. Actively seeking opportunities to experience awe as a family is critical to their well-being, and has the power to improve society as a whole. 

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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With the many blessings of multiple kids, comes the challenge of needing even more gear—gear that's guaranteed to go the extra mile. With storage space already at a premium, you can probably get away with some new baby clothes. But multiplying the number of strollers in the garage? That's not going to fly.

But with the new Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller, "less is more" is truly the answer to your problems.

1. It has every seat arrangement you could need

Strollers can be complex enough when you only need one seat. Add in another baby and shopping for a perfect fit can feel like enough to make you spend the next few years at home. But, with the Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller, you don't have to know exactly how your kids will want to sit for the rest of time. It offers 23 modes, making for clever convertibility, for whichever way your family may grow. Simply add to DEMI grow as you need.

2. You’re spared the stroller wrestling match

When you're toting around two kids, the last thing you need is an uncooperative stroller. With the Nuna DEMI™ grow, you can do a remarkable number of things with just a touch (or less than that if you're really creative). From a one-hand adjustable calf support, to one-touch brake to easy folding it up, you don't need to call backup just to get back into the car from your outing.

Bonus: The no-rethread harness on the compatible Nuna PIPA™ series car seats enables you to easily raise or lower the straps without the headache of unhooking and rerouting them each time your baby goes through a growth spurt.

3. It ensures comfort—no matter who is sitting where

Not only are there 23 different modes, but each seat is made to feel like the "best" one. With options to recline, kick up their feet and keep the sun out of their eyes with UPF 50+ canopies, you won't have to referee the "but I want to sit there" battle. (Moms of toddlers, you'll know why this is such an important detail.)

4. It’s designed for year-round adventures

For any mama who has been struck with fear from the sight of a bumpy sidewalk, worry no more. With ultra-tough, foam-filled tires and custom dual suspension, the Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller is designed to tackle just about any terrain all while keeping your little ones comfy in their seats. The seats themselves were also designed for maximum comfort, no matter the temperature: With an all-season seat, the padded exterior can easily be removed to expose the breathable mesh lining when you're out and about on hot days.

5. You don’t have to predict the future of your family

When researching and buying a new stroller, it can feel like you need to have exact plans for the future of your family mapped out.

But with the Nuna DEMI™ grow, you don't need to worry about all those plans right now. Whether you just need one seat, two seats, bassinet or car seats, this single stroller has you covered and grows as you need it.

That way, you can worry less about predicting your family's future—and enjoy exactly where it is today even more.

This article was sponsored by Nuna. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

If you use U by Kotex tampons, you should check your box before your next period, mama.

Regular absorbency U by Kotex Sleek Tampons are being recalled throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to the FDA, defective tampons have been coming apart when people tried to remove them, "in some cases causing users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body."

The FDA notes that there have also been a "small number of reports of infections, vaginal irritation, localized vaginal injury, and other symptoms."

In a statement on its website, U by Kotex explains that the recall is specific to the U by Kotex Sleek Tampons, Regular Absorbency only. The Super Absorbency or Super Plus Absorbency tampons are not part of the recall.

The recall is for specific lots of the Regular Absorbency tampons manufactured between October 7, 2016 and October 16, 2018.

The lot numbers start with NN (or XM, for small, 3 count packages) and can be found near the barcode on the bottom of the box.

To check if your tampons are part of the recall, type your lot number into this form on the U by Kotex site.


The FDA says if you've used the tampons and are experiencing the following you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • vaginal injury (pain, bleeding, or discomfort)
  • vaginal irritation (itching or swelling)
  • urogenital infections (bladder and/or vaginal bacterial and/or yeast infections)
  • hot flashes
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting

If you have a package of the recalled tampons you should not use them and should call Kotex's parent company, Kimberly-Clark at 1-888-255-3499. On its website U by Kotex asks consumers not to return the tampons to stores.

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I grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air so pretty much anytime Will Smith pops up on my Facebook feed, I click. (Also, I happen to live near West Philadelphia, so you know, there's a lot of theme song singing. My husband finds me hysterical.)

Anyway...

The last time I clicked on a Will Smith video, he was telling a story about when he went skydiving. He had made the decision to go with his friends, and then spent the whole night and morning leading up to it terrified, envisioning all the things that could go wrong.

When he was finally up in the plane, the guide explained that they would jump on the count of three. "One… two…" except they push you out on "two" because everyone throws their arms out and stops themselves at "three." So before he knew it, he was flying.

And he found it to be absolutely amazing.

He said, "The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It's bliss. The lesson for me was, why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? You're nowhere even near the airplane. Everything up to the stepping out, there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day… the best things in life [are] on the other side of [fear]."

Motherhood is skydiving.

If someone came up to you one day and said, "Hey. I have this job for you. You are going to grow a human in your body, kind of like it's an alien. And then that human is going to come out of your body—and that process is really intense. And then the human will be really helpless and you will have to turn it into a fully functioning adult with an important place in this world. Okay… go!"

You'd smile politely and walk run away as fast as you could.

Because if you think about it, the idea of doing all of that—motherhoodis pretty terrifying. The amount of responsibility and work is sort of incomprehensible.

The grand scheme of motherhood is scary.

The thing is, though, that the grand scheme of motherhood is actually made up of millions of tiny moments in which you will be a total boss.

Whether it's a jump-out-of-the-plane moment, or a get-the-toddler-out-of-the-car-seat moment, you will face it with bravery.

Remember, being brave isn't the absence of fear, it's being afraid and doing it anyway.

Being brave is taking a pregnancy test—and seeing that it's positive. Or seeing that it's negative, again.

Being brave is waiting for the adoption agency to call you and tell you that she's here.

Being brave is watching your body change in a hundred ways, and lovingly rubbing your belly as it does.

Being brave is giving your body over to the process of bringing your baby into the world—yes, even if you cry, or complain, or cry and complain. You're still brave. Promise.

Being brave is bringing that baby home for the first time. Oh, so much bravery needed for that one.

Being brave is giving that first bath, going to that first pediatrician visit, spending that first full day at home, alone, with the baby,

Being brave is your first day back at work—or making the phone call to tell them you won't actually be coming back at all.

Being brave is ignoring all the noise around you, and parenting your child the way you know is best for your family.

Being brave is letting go of her hands when she takes her first steps.

Being brave is sitting next to her and smiling when you're in the emergency room for croup—and then sobbing when you get home.

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of school—and going home without her.

Being brave is saying "yes" to her first sleepover and "no" to her first car.

Being brave is hugging her the first time her heart breaks, when your heart might possibly hurt even more than hers does.

Being brave is listening quietly when she tells you she plans to "travel the world."

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of college—and going home without her.

Being brave is watching her commit her life to another person, who is not you.

Being brave is watching her become a mother.

And one day, sweet, brave mama, you'll look back and realize that you just jumped out of an airplane—you raised a child.

All of the things that seemed terrifyingly impossible—you just…do them. One at a time. You will wake up every day a little bit braver than the day before. And before you know it, you can look back on any aspect of motherhood and realize that little by little, you just increased your flying altitude.

Things that was seemed daunting are handled with ease. Ideas that once seemed impossible have become your reality one thousand times over.

So yes, motherhood is incredibly scary. But you are incredibly brave.

One... two... jump!

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There's so much noise.

All. The. Time.

It feels like it's 24 hours, 7 days a week.

There's whining, crying, chatting, banging, tapping, scratching, singing, buzzing, yelling, snoring, crunching, schlopping, chewing, slurping, stomping, clapping, singing, laughing.

There's sound machines with crashing waves coming at me around every corner. There's a baby (doll) crying, and then my real baby crying. There's toys going off even when no one is playing with them.

There's requests, questions, demands, negotiations, plans, adventures, stories, performances—at all times.

There's ringing phones, alarms going off, voicemails, television theme songs (Daniel Tiger, I'm looking at you), Moana and Sing soundtracks playing. There's random loud videos playing when you're scrolling through Facebook and think you have your phone on silent.

I even hear things when there's nothing to be heard. Like the baby crying when I'm in the shower and she's sleeping. Like a bang from someone falling when everyone is fine. Like Imagine Dragon's 'Thunder' when it's not even on but it's stuck in my head because my daughter has requested to play it over and over and over.

At times, it makes me feel like I am going crazy. Like my brain doesn't work because I can't think clearly because the noise is all-encompassing.

This noise, paired with the never-ending, running-forever list of things to do in my head is one of the areas of motherhood that is hard for me. Really, really hard. It triggers my anxiety more than anything else does.

Sometimes, I just want to sit in silence. Alone. Not listening to anything or anyone.

Sometimes, I just want to hear myself think.

Sometimes, I just want the whining to stop.

Sometimes, I just want the brain fog to go away and never come back.

But what I've realized is that this is part of motherhood. Of my journey. Because, I have three children and it's never going to be quiet.

I need to get used to the noise, embrace the noise and know when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

And I am used to the noise on some level.

I function fairly well on a daily basis getting work done and to-do lists checked off and taking care of my (loud, but wonderful) children. When all of the noise is overwhelming me, I've gotten into the habit of taking deep breaths and focusing on my task at hand.

It's not perfect, but it's something.

And I can definitely embrace the noise—especially the lovely noises of childhood.

Because when I think about it—is there anything better than hearing my 4-year-old belt out 'Thunder'?

Is there anything better than hearing my 2-year-old giggle uncontrollably?

Is there anything better than hearing the coos of my 3-month-old?

Is there anything better than hearing one of my daughters say "I love you, Mama"? Or "See you later, alligator"?

Is there anything better than hearing cheers from my kids to celebrate their siblings' accomplishment? ("Lucy went potty! Yay!")

Is there anything better than hearing your preschooler say "sh-sh-shhhhh" over and over to soothe her newborn sister like she sees her parents doing?

No, nothing is better. Not even silence.

But there will be days when it feels like it's too much. And I just want to say—

It's okay.

It's okay to want to sit in silence.

It's okay to look forward to the quiet that nighttime offers.

It's okay to admit to ourselves that sometimes the noise is too much.

And it's normal.

Our brains can only handle so much at one time. So, be gentle on yourself, mama. I know I'm trying.

I am learning to recognize when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

I stay up late sometimes to enjoy the quiet—to listen to my thoughts.

I wake up early sometimes—to meditate and look inward.

I plan "me time" outside of the house—to spend time with myself and decide on choosing noise or not.

I hop in the shower when my husband gets home—to hand over the noise for a while and enjoy only the sound of rushing water.

There are moments of motherhood that challenge me—mind, body and soul. The constant noise is one of them. But these challenges will never beat me. I love being my children's mother too much.

So on the days when the noise is taking over, know that you're not alone. And know that peace and quiet is potentially just a shower away.


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This past year, I was diagnosed with depression. I was fighting what I believed to be a stubborn case of PPD. I thought things would get better as my baby grew, when I wasn't postpartum anymore. I was in denial, not receiving any kind of help, and definitely not getting any better.

Finally, I sought out help from a doctor and was diagnosed with clinical depression and am now receiving treatment. Part of this treatment involved visiting with a therapist for the first time in my life in hopes of combating the powerful force of negativity that has insidiously planted itself inside my mind.

I learned something significant in that meeting: that my thoughts were caused by something that was physically going wrong inside of my brain. Deep down, I believed I had been allowing the darkness—that it, too, was my fault. I found hope in that meeting, the hope of rewiring my brain.

I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that's the only resolution I care to make.

My therapist advised me to do an exercise that's proven difficult for me. I literally have positive affirmations about myself taped to my bathroom mirror. My sarcastic side really fights this. I envision that I'm wearing a colorful collared shirt or sweater combination (a la Stuart Smalley) as I repeat these mantras to myself. The truth is they're a powerful counterbalance to the way I normally think about who I am.

Most people struggle with this at one time or another. I think we could all benefit from practicing a little self-love.

So for this year, I resolve not to make any resolutions about losing weight. I am at a healthy weight, and although I would love to re-lose the 10 pounds I lost when I began depression medication, I will instead resolve to replace the negative thoughts I have about my body with healthy ones.

My critical observations regarding my body began very early for me, as they do for most women. It may take some time, but I'm going to work on appreciating my body for what it can do, instead of worrying about how it appears to others.

I resolve to be the best mom I can be. And that is only possible when I work on taking better care of myself. For many years, I've devoted myself completely to my children, believing it was best for them. But you can't pull water from an empty well, and this past year my well went dry.

I resolve to take more breaks, indulge in some mental health days, and spend more quality time with my family.

Society is hard on mothers, so I'm going to pull a Taylor Swift, and "shake it off." I will ignore the negative commentators who feel compelled to troll my writings. I will look to the positive instead of dwelling on the negative.

I will support and seek to uplift other mothers. We should be each other's biggest fans, not harshest critics. I will stand up for those who are belittled, judged, or misunderstood.

I resolve to let go of past mistakes and less than perfect parenting moments. I will seek to learn from the past instead of dwelling on it. I will work on treating myself with more kindness, moving forward in hopes that my three boys will learn from my example and speak kindly toward themselves.

I will continue my treatment—even the daily affirmations—and be patient with my progress.

So here's to a new year and a new way of thinking, to not giving up, and to practicing kindness that begins from within.

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