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30 July 2012
Some perfectly good words have been taken up by popular culture and had the meaning wrung out of them in the process: awesome is one of them. The next time you hand some money over to the seventeen year old checkout dude and he comments, “Awesome”, you might respond, “Actually, Mt Kilimanjaro is awesome, all I’ve done is pay you and I haven’t even given you the right amount. I need change.” Perhaps you will be telling your office mates that you have just cleaned the office sandwich maker for the fifth time this week and when Tina the Tattoo-ed exclaims, “Awesome” you could advise, “No, birth is awesome, cleaning is just a basic civilised function.” We need to reclaim the gravity of the word awesome, not just for the sake of linguistic pugilism but because genuine “awesomeness” (thankyou Kung-Fu Panda!) has some real effects on you.
The implications of awe for the human who experiences that are have been established in a series of experiments conducted by researchers from Stanford University and the University of Minnesota. They felt that while awe seems to be a universal emotion it has been sparsely studied.
The results of their research showed that awe-inspiring moments made the person who experienced that moment feel that they had more time available to them. They also felt more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer their time to serve others.
Awesome experiences change your subjective experience of time making it seem to pass more slowly. You are also brought more into the present moment so that life feels more satisfying than when you are contemplating the past or projecting into the future. So not only does the experience of something that is really awesome turn you into a Time Lord but your wellbeing is boosted into the bargain.
Just a note for the unwary traveller in search of awesome experiences: standing with your legs spread, raising the index and little fingers on each hand, and jiggling those hands while squealing a falsetto “Awesome!” is not, in fact, awesome behaviour at all. It is, in reality, clichéd, incredibly trite, and mildly nauseating in its banality. Sunset on the beach, dancing in the rain, lying on the grass watching the stars at midnight, on the other hand…now that’s awesome.