Clock and awe

The last time I felt a sense of real awe was in Iceland, hearing the rumble of the Gullfoss waterfall, and then catching my first glimpse of it. It’s a waterfall that in summertime throws an average of 140 cubic metres per second over a three-step precipice that gradually reveals itself as you walk towards it. It was a rather sustained period of awe as well, lasting all the way from climbing down the rickety steps to the main viewing platform to returning to the bus stop, jaw still somewhat loosely open. This was with my glasses misted up from the spray too. Who knows what the sight might have done to my brain had I actually been able to see clearly.  

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, awe is a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder. Mixed up in that feeling, is there also a sense of timelessness, a blotting out of all the worries about not having enough time to do everything we need to?

Researchers Melanie Rudd, Kathleen Vohs and Jennifer Aaker from Stanford Unievrsity and the University of Minnesota ran some tests to find out how a feeling of awe affects people’s perception of time. They found that a feeling of awe is associated with a feeling of being less rushed, and having more time available. For example, showing people pictures or telling people a story that made them feel a sense of awe made them more likely to agree to volunteering their time to help others. It also made them feel more satisfied with life.

Luckily I didn’t completely lose track of time at Gullfoss. Otherwise I would have missed the bus.

The full paper is here.

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