Awe. Recently I’ve been reading Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ and went on a solo ‘artist date’, my first one ever, to the Ashmolean museum in Oxford to see a Jeff Koons exhibition. I was a little apprehensive about going as art exhibitions aren’t usually something that excites or inspires me, and Jeff Koons definitely has a unique style which not everyone enjoys. This was also a brand-new experience for me, a solo trip to an exhibition instead of going with someone else and the potential outcome of the event was an unknown. Over the past few months as part of my desire to change an old habit of ‘forgetting to live’ I’ve been attempting to broaden my horizons and consciously become more open to new experiences. I shouldn’t have worried, I loved it! After initial feelings of awkwardness at being alone I quickly focused on the art instead. I was moved emotionally in a way that astounded me, particularly when you only take a quick look at the work on display. But when I stopped to absorb the meaning and intention behind Koon’s work, I felt such huge appreciation and awe that it lifted my spirits for the whole weekend.
On reflection now I did have a tiny suspicion I might enjoy it as I know one of my highest VIA Character Strengths is appreciation of beauty and excellence (it comes up as my second highest strength and is equal with love of learning). I know I have always deeply appreciated beauty in nature, I spend a lot of time looking at sunrises, sunsets and the moon. Being outside in nature, particularly around mountains or water, always calms whatever is bubbling away inside me. I have lived in the countryside for years and am lucky enough to have easy access to views of rolling fields whenever I want to feel the wonder and awe, I know it will inspire in me.
Awe is described by Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson in her book Positivity as one of 10 forms of positive emotions. Fredrickson suggests that by regularly practicing noticing and feeling each of the following emotions one’s health and well-being can be vastly improved. Considering a trip to an art exhibition lifted my mood for days I spent some time thinking about how positive emotions show up for me on a day to day basis and came up with the below list:
1. Joy – I feel joy in the moments everything seems to be going well, the fist pump ‘YES’ moments in my day, when I become aware that warm memories are being made, or when listening to an uplifting piece of music (usually whilst kitchen dancing)
2. Gratitude – I consciously create moments to be grateful for the things I have, these are the moments I gain perspective on my worries compared to the struggles other people are going through
3. Serenity – for me this is a feeling of being at peace with the world, when I am on early morning walks with my dog or looking at birds flying in the sky
4. Interest – taking interest in the world through learning something new is easy for me due to my love of learning, whether that is learning a new skill or acquiring new knowledge (about anything and everything!)
5. Hope – I regularly feel hope for the future. On good days and bad days remembering that everything is temporary allows hope to shine through
6. Pride – this one is hard for me, too often I achieve something and move straight on to the next goal without a thought, I’m trying to pause and feel proud of all of my achievements
7. Amusement – I create amusement through watching a favourite comedy or remembering random moments of laughter with my daughters (usually when one of our pets does something stupid), laughter is a great mood enhancer for me
8. Inspiration – I love finding out about what other people have achieved in their lives, I gain the most inspiration from people who have faced challenges in their life and gone on to achieve their own personal greatness anyway. Sometimes I get this from figures in history, other times it is in the present day. Their ‘greatness’ doesn’t actually need be anything big, if they’ve lived their lives to their potential whilst facing their own challenges it doesn’t matter how big or small the achievement was, I’m always inspired
9. Awe – this is the ‘wow’ feeling I get when I look at the sky, the moon and stars or a sunrise or sunset. I am loving the fact that I can now feel a sense of awe from art!
10. Love – to feel loved by, and love for others, both humans and animals. I am also working on feeling more love for myself (something I’m not great at yet)
Openness to Change
Writing the above list shows me how much I tend to overlook positive emotions in my day and focus more on problems. The fact that my normal appreciation of the natural world could also apply to man-made art and instil the same feelings of wonder, happiness and peace inside me is hugely exciting and interesting. This led me to question what other opportunities I have available that I’m not making the most of? What else I could open myself up to in order to bring greater moments of positivity in my daily life? And how do I make this change?
A Toolkit for Self-Change
James O. Prochaska, one of the creators of the Trans-theoretical Model of Behaviour Change, suggests that through reflecting on the ways the 10 positive emotions have appeared in your day, and subsequently adjusting focus as necessary for the following day, we are able to allow room for any missing positive emotions and have the ability to decrease the negativity that can get in the way of self-change. I am still learning to change my old habit of ‘forgetting to live’ and maybe this idea is another trick to have in my toolbox to help. By implementing a mindfulness focus on feeling all 10 positive emotions in my day I will be living life as it happens instead of staying trapped in my head overthinking. And so, as from today I am committed to making a conscious effort to reflect every night on how I’ve experienced the 10 positive emotions during the day.
What ways do you experience these positive emotions in your day? Let me know in the comments below.
About the Author: Emma Wilmer
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’