Have you ever had a really rough moment with your child, and then someone else—maybe an older person—will tell you how absolutely delightful your child is? And then you respond with something like, "Yeah, you may think so but…" Or maybe you've had a friend admire your house, and you can’t help but show them the terrible bathroom or the crumbling ceiling or something else you find wanting.
Here’s the thing. If we’re a collection of our thoughts, and we choose to find the negative—the difficult—in a situation instead of the positive, whether it’s out of perceived modesty or humility or just plain old pessimism, we do ourselves a disservice.
We are what we think about. So, if you want to be your best and happiest self, it behooves you to elevate your thoughts.
There’s a wonderful practice that I’ve adopted. It worked so well that I've turned my children and my coaching clients on to it to great effect. It’s the practice of cultivating awe.
It has the power to move a practitioner to tears. It can affect you as deeply and powerfully as you want it to. And no matter what, just doing it will make you happier.
Here's how to do it.
Get yourself in a space that gives you something to observe—a comfortable room with some music, a nature hike, a walk around your neighborhood.
Then look for something pleasing: a flower, the color of the sky, or a bird chirping. Then meditate on that beautiful thing. Really savor it. Look at that flower—look at the colors. Think about the person who planted it, who nurtures that beauty regularly. If it's a wildflower, think about how marvelous it is that such beauty can grow and flourish on its own.
Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself running an awe dialogue. It might sound something like this:
"How amazing is it that plants just grow? A seed falls somewhere, it rains, the seed takes root, and this beautiful plant has come from that tiny, tiny seed. Life is full of so many incredible wonders."
And then, maybe you’ll hear a dog barking. And you can start again.
"How interesting is it that we invite dogs in, and they take care of us, and we take care of them? They can learn tricks; they help the blind. What a gift these companions are to all of us."
All it takes is letting your mind take you to a place of enthusiastic contemplation. Think about the wonder of life, of beauty, of sound. Free yourself to enjoy the awesome people, places, art, and music that surround you every minute of every day.
There's an old English quote that beautifully captures our relationship to awe:
So, the next time someone compliments your child, allow yourself to join in their wonder. You made that child. You have helped that child flourish and become the beautiful, awe-inspiring being that they are. And while this may sound a little naive or idealistic to you, trust me, it isn't. The power of positive thinking has strong evidence based in science.
"Being in the presence of vast things calls forth a less narcissistic self, which enables greater kindness toward others," according to researcher Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
By cultivating awe, you are actively connecting to something larger than yourself, which can be humbling and fill you with appreciation. It will have a profound effect on how you feel.