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Awe: The ABD's Secret Weapon to Flourishing & Finishing | Issue 290

Summary: Discover awe's huge but hidden benefits for doing and feeling your best.

Estimated read time: 5 minutes that will change everything about how you see taking time off.


By Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C., Editor

"I want to be constantly in awe of the possibilities of the universe." ~ Kameron Hurley

Want to finish your dissertation? Then hit the pause button this summer. 

That's right—block out time off. Take hours, days, or more to seek awe-inspiring experiences—the ones that take your breath away. The ones you never forget. 

You will not regret it. The time out will more than pay for itself when you get back to work. 

Make awe your secret dissertation weapon. Where could you go to experience jaw-dropping wonder? What gives you goosebumps? 

If your inner saboteur is whispering that you'd only be wasting valuable time, be assured it is wrong. 

Scientific evidence abounds that awe enhances thinking, feeling, and relating. Awe is a unique key for pivoting from struggle to success. 

Ditch the myth that dissertation writing demands a dreary slog. You need not forego every pleasure to achieve your academic aspirations. Au contraire! If you've followed the ABD Survival Guide, you've know that prolonged stress and negativity impedes rather than promotes flourishing. 

We've always known that awe experiences are desirable for their own sake. But did you know that the psychological benefits persist? Awe will revive your energy and inspiration for finishing your dissertation. 


Once the province of poets and philosophers, William James and Abraham Maslow brought it to psychology. Recently this super-charged positive emotion caught the attention of researchers who have found ways to define, measure, and elicit it. 


"Awe is the salve that will heal our eyes." ~ Rumi

Go for the moments that take your breath away

Awe refers to emotional experiences that combine reverential respect with wonder (or fear). 

It arises in the presence of phenomena that surpass our current understanding. We can find it in the cosmic (solar eclipses, the aurora borealis, spectacular sunrises, rainbows, etc.), the earthly (Mt. Everest, the Grand Canyon, the Sahara, etc.), and the living (soaring eagles, newborns, etc.).

Paradoxically, the very vastness of awe phenomena makes us feel smaller, insignificant in comparison. Awe triggers feelings of connection to other beings, to the universe, to something larger than ourselves. A uniquely human experience, awe shows up similarly across cultures. 


While immersion in nature may be the best known way to elicit such transcendent experiences, it also arises in other venues, e.g., spectacular performances in the arts or sports. "Impossible" shots inbasketball,golf, and tennis become legendary. Concert crowds hush in astonishment before erupting into shouts of "Bravo!" and "Encore!" 

Witnessing great acts of courage or kindness also moves us. Who could fail to be awed by the bravery of those on the frontlines in a crisis or by the miracle of childbirth? 


Where do you find awe? 

Recall one of your most awe-inspiring experiences. Where were you? What was happening? Who was there? How did you feel? 

One of my top spots goes to my enchanted childhood summers in Yosemite, something John Muir would understand. It forever changed my relationship with nature, creating a respect and a connection I still feel. 

In danger of being loved to death, Yosemite National Park draws millions annually. There's just something about astonishing panoramas of granite domes, impressive sheer cliffs, and spectacular waterfalls that draws the multitudes. 

The grandeur of the sequoias in the famed Mariposa Grove (sadly threatened by fire as I write) always leaves me breathless. I've witnessed tourists pour out of buses and amble noisily toward the trailhead—then pause, mouths agape, once they see the first huge specimens. They then tread as reverently, as if in a majestic Gothic cathedral. 

Most days, at our family's cabin, we lolled in hammocks under towering ponderosa pines and splashed in crystal waters bounded by massive granite boulders. Around the night campfire, we marveled at the infinity of stars and the Perseid meteor showers in a silence broken only by the soulful howl of coyotes. 

Where have you find awe? How has it changed you? How does it sustain you? 


"Awe is the beginning of wisdom. Awe is the beginning of education." ~ Matthew Fox 

How awe benefits your mood and work 


All of us spontaneously appreciate awe in the moment—whether it's a glorious sunset over the sea or watching new life come into the world. 


Surprisingly, however, the psychological benefits linger. They can raise your mood and life satisfaction, and, as you slow down to appreciate the here-and-now, make time seem more abundant, writes Summer Allen for the Greater Good Science Center. 


In his TED talk, Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., GGSC founder and awe expert, describes more findings from the young science of awe. It leads to more balanced perspective on our place in the universe and deepens our sense of connection with the cosmos and other beings. The result is greater generosity, humility, and cooperation. Given the propensity for awe to contribute to our individual and collective well-being, he advocates for building more awe into our culture and into our daily experiences. 


As a dissertation writer, you will be interested to discover that awe sharpens your brain. In various studies, study participants show enhanced critical thinking after an induced awe experience. 


Need more justification? Awe experiences can keep you healthy during your dissertation marathon as data show that awe reduces stress and bodily inflammation. With such a host of benefits, awe should be on your agenda for this summer (or winter, depending on your location). 


"The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper." ~ W.B. Yeats


Surprising ways to leverage awe


An obvious path to awe is to immerse yourself in nature, seeking vast vistas that take your breath away. Our implicit awareness of this no doubt contributes to the popularity of national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Acadia, and others. 

While deep pockets may carry some travelers to Paris, the Antarctic, Timbuktu, and other exotic destinations, that's not necessary for awe. With a little determination and curiosity, you can locate awe-inspiring places closer to home. 

Create your own "awe bucket list." You can expand the possibilities for awe-filled experiences if you think of awe as a dimension ranging from Awe with a capital "A" to awe with a little "a." Daily life offers numerous moments for wonder. The secret, I have found, is to stop and simply behold the world as a miracle. 

At sunset, I am mesmerized by the clouds morphing from orange to pink to gray. Dragonflies dancing in a roadside ditch entrance me. Spotting a Good Samaritan changing someone else's flat tire wows me. The possibilities for awe are infinite when you consider that the world did not have to be so beautiful. 

"I have always tried to live by the 'awe principle.' That is: can I find awe, wonder and enchantment in the most mundane things conceivable?" ~ Craig Hatkoff 


Make awe your secret dissertation weapon

Here's some really good news: You don't need to go anywhere at all. You can derive many of awe's benefits merely by looking at awe-inspiring videos or pictures. Vicarious awe, research shows, can be triggered by listening to or reading stories of others' breathtaking moments. 

Your own memories provide yet more opportunity. While reminiscing may be less intense than actual experiences, it still contributes to flourishing. You can also enjoy a dose of awe every time you open your computer with an awesome personal photo or Bing wallpaper

If you're feeling stressed by deadlines, theoretical frameworks, and data analyses, look no further for justification to put down your laptop: Head for the hills or the shore—or just outside to admire the butterflies or billowing clouds. Take in a museum or a concert. Plan a trip to your idea of paradise. 

Keep in mind that you have the power to direct your attention to the most health-giving experiences possible—including awe. As you cultivate your sense of awe, notice any uplift in your mood. Luxuriate in the expansive sense of being part of a wondrous universe. 

Then channel your new zest and sharpened thinking into your dissertation, confident that you are on the path to becoming the awesome Dr. You! 

"Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you." ~ Wayne Dwyer 


P.S. If you could use someone in your corner to help you alleviate dissertation stress and find more awe, success, and joy, click here for a free consultation. Our experienced positive psychology dissertation coaches are awesome! 



Keltner, Dacher. Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life Available January 3, 2023. Meanwhile enjoy the online resources from the Greater Good Science Center, founded by Keltner, with unbeatable coverage of research into the good side of human beings and a monthly downloadable Happiness Calendar, a daily actionable guide to well-being. 


Paquette, Jonah. Awestruck: How Embracing Wonder Can Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Connected.


Muir, John. My First Summer in the Sierra. A classic. " Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality." Read free here


Schwartzberg, Louie. Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. A stunning TED presentation of time-lapse photography sure to elicit awe. 


The Most Beautiful Places in the World, Episode 3. A seven-hour YouTube video with focusing music recommended by my client Joe D. Find your own favorite on YouTube! 

Image credits: Yosemite Valley ©Gayle Scroggs; Silhouette & sunset ©Lauren Nicole Dahlin



An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resources

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



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