The Power of Awe

Have you ever thought about how amazed we are by immensity?

We marvel at mountains, skyscrapers, and more. But what fascinates me that this is completely independent of how big each structure is in relation to another. Our level of marvel has no bearing on how big that structure truly is. All that matters is how much smaller we are.

No matter the comparison (or lack thereof), the power of being in awe never loses its strength.

On my recent trip to SxSW, Texas’s State Capitol building amazed me, and its even taller than the Capitol building in Washington DC. So many tourists visit Washington DC each year and marvel at the beautiful Capitol Building — and it’s not even the tallest of its kind in the country! The fact that it may in reality look smaller compared to other buildings doesn’t take away from its enormity and beauty, though. When we stand before something that inspires awe in us, there is no logical constraint to the power of that feeling.

Sure, the Concepcion volcano in Nicaragua seems huge and inspiring in person, but what would it seem like in comparison to the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii, the tallest volcano in the world? Probably like its baby brother and not much competition at all. On their own, though, both are equally breathtaking and marvelous. Why is that?!

Because anything that is epic and marvelous in acope and size inspires the ultimate feeling deep within us: awe.

It works the other way, as well.

Sure, your job seems like the worst out there, but what if you compare it to being employed as a child soldier? (If you haven’t seen KONY 2012, you should probably go do that. It’s been weeks, people.) Or does comparing to another not matter at all? Is being unhappy (or the opposite of being in awe) completely unrelated to others who may be experiencing more of that misery?

Newsflash: comparisons should, in some cases, matter. Perspective matters. Perception matters. When you go all “woe is me”, give yourself a bit of a reality check. Chances are, what you are afraid of or what you are feeling miserable about won’t kill you. If you don’t believe me, read The Flinch