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The Awe-Altruism Link

Awe is that sense of wonder felt in the presence of something vast that transcends one’s understanding of the world. People commonly experience it in nature but also in response to religion, art and music.

But recent research shows a surprising fringe benefit to moments of awe. These studies show that inducing a sense of awe in people can promote altruistic, helpful and positive social behavior.

Paul Piff, a psychologist who has designed some of these studies, says, “Our investigation indicates that awe, although often fleeting and hard to describe, serves a vital social function. By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others.”

The researchers said they believe that awe induces a feeling of being diminished in the presence of something greater than oneself. It is this reduced sense of self that sways focus away from an individual’s need and toward the greater good.

In this episode, Ven. Tenzin talks about the link between awe and altruism, and explores strategies we can use to enhance our experiences of awe, not only leading to these moments of wonder and transcendence, but motivating altruistic actions and behaviors that benefit others.


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