Book Review: The Power of Awe: Overcome Burnout & Anxiety, Ease Chronic Pain, Find Clarity & Purpose—in Less than 1 Minute per Day
“As lifelong meditators and mindfulness teachers, we confess we were almost embarrassed when we stumbled onto a 5 to 15-second shortcut to transcendence. This idea contradicted everything we knew about meditation before we began our research. But, yes, it is possible. It only requires accessing the powerful emotion of awe in everyday life. The changes in our lives have been profound, and after seeing the results repeated again and again in our thousands of patients, clients, and study participants, we’ve proven that our shortcut, coined the A.W.E. Method, works.” —from the Preface
A Positive Perspective – Shelley Garnet
Awe is that feeling we get when confronted with something so vast it challenges our usual understanding of the world. Standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking up at the expanse of stars in the night sky, or witnessing the birth of a child can inspire a sense of awe. More than just wonder, awe makes us feel small, expands our perception, and puts things into perspective. Science now suggests cultivating awe can actually make our lives happier, healthier, and more meaningful.
Experiencing awe prompts us to revise our mental models of the world. By introducing vastness into our lives, awe pokes holes in our usual frames of reference and shakes our assumptions. Researchers have found that awe helps improve our health by reducing stress, lowering inflammation, and boosting immunity. Awe also makes us more humble and encourages us to connect with others. Studies show that awe can improve relationships, make us more generous, and enhance decision-making by counteracting overconfidence.
So how can we introduce more awe into our daily lives? Seeking out vastness in nature is one simple way. Gazing at the ocean, looking up at tall trees, and staring at the starry sky naturally elicits awe. Traveling to new places, especially magnificent natural environments, also exposes us to wonder. Doing a digital detox and taking time away from technology can open us up to more awe. Volunteering, attending cultural events, or having meaningful conversations can remind us of the vastness of the human experience. Practicing gratitude, being mindful in the present moment, and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones also sets the stage for awe. Purposefully making time for wonder allows us to tap into awe.
Bringing more awe and profound wonder into our lives can make us happier and better people. Awe expands our perception, humbles us, helps improve relationships, and infuses our lives with meaning. Seeking out vastness and making space for awe allows us to live with more wisdom, compassion, and connection to others.
A Critical Perspective – Jonathan Bohm
While awe may stir momentary wonder, the argument that it can profoundly improve lives remains unconvincing. In The Power of Awe, the authors claim that experiencing awe makes people happier and healthier and infuses existence with meaning. However, the book fails to provide compelling evidence that awe has such life-altering powers.
The author cites studies showing how brief awe experiences may reduce stress and boost immunity. But these fleeting effects hardly constitute major lifestyle changes. Furthermore, the book provides little concrete data demonstrating how awe tangibly enhances relationships or decision-making. Though awe may temporarily shift perspective, the notion that it permanently alters worldviews seems hyperbolic.
Seeking awe in nature and avoiding technology are impractical suggestions for most. Volunteering and cultural events may prove inspiring but are unlikely to induce awe regularly. While trying new activities and appreciating beauty can enrich life, the book exaggerates awe’s ability to redefine it profoundly.
Overall, the authors present awe as a panacea capable of revolutionizing people’s lives. But the grandiose claims about awe’s benefits lack robust substantiation. Awe may occasionally offer glimpses of life’s wonder, but the argument it can fundamentally transform existence neglects the complexity of human experience. Though thought-provoking, The Power of Awe ultimately overstates awe’s power to reshape lives permanently.
The Quick Debate
Shelley: “The Power of Awe” fundamentally changed my outlook. For years I was caught in the hamster wheel of routine, and while grateful for my life, I wasn’t feeling very present. I started seeking small experiences of awe – stopping to observe the way sunlight filters through leaves, listening intently to the complex notes of birdsong, and even marveling at a coworker’s act of kindness. I’ve been amazed at how these little moments have altered my entire frame of mind.”
Jonathan: “That’s wonderful, but not everyone can be so ‘switched on’ to daily doses of awe. It’s hard for me to imagine finding those moments amidst the chaos.”
Shelley: “It’s definitely a practice. Some days are easier than others, but that’s why the book’s A.W.E. method is so helpful. For example, during what used to be a stressful commute, I try to ‘Appreciate a Wide Expanse’– finding a break in the buildings to see the clouds or sky, taking a moment to breathe deeper. Now, the journey itself has become a little pocket of calm.”
Jonathan: “Okay, okay, that’s relatable. But I have intense periods of burnout. It’s like my entire system shuts down. Wouldn’t it require an enormous thing to experience true awe when I feel that depleted?”
Shelley: “The book actually has a section specifically addressing burnout. It discusses the importance of self-care–sleep, exercise, recreation, healthy diet, hydration, breaks, and maintaining relationships with family and friends.”
Jonathan: “Alright, you’ve piqued my interest. But, if it’s such a powerful tool, wouldn’t you eventually run out of things to be awed by?”
Shelley: “The beauty of awe is that it gets easier and more profound with practice. You start noticing subtler things – the vibrant vegetable texture at the market, the complex music of children’s laughter. Like building any skill, it becomes richer the more you engage with it.”
Moderator (Summary): This spirited debate highlights the intriguing core of “The Power of Awe.” While the opponent presents valid skepticism about the practicality of cultivating awe within our busy lives, the proponent makes a strong case for the book’s accessible approach and the cumulative effects of seeking wonder in the everyday.
As for declaring a winner…both sides present compelling points. In truth, there’s no right or wrong way to embrace this concept. However, the discussion raises an important reminder: perhaps we have underestimated the profound impact that can be achieved by deliberately finding awe in the small things as much as in grand experiences. Whether you become a full-fledged champion of the A.W.E method or simply more attuned to appreciating daily miracles, this book will surely spark reflection and possibly offer a much-needed mental reprieve.
Jake Eagle, LPC, is a psychotherapist, mindfulness instructor, fellow member trainer of the International Association of Neuro‑Linguistic Programming, and cofounder of Live Conscious, along with his wife Hannah. After thirty years in private practice, Jake now works part-time as a meta-therapist, working with people who want to go beyond the bounds of traditional therapy. Jake recognizes the value of therapy, and he also recognizes the limitations. His passion is to mentor people interested in fulfilling their wholesome potential. Together, he and Hannah lead life-changing small group retreats at awe-inspiring locations worldwide.
Michael Amster, MD, is a physician and faculty member at Touro School of Medicine. He graduated from the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, and completed his pain management fellowship at the University of Iowa. Michael has been working as a pain management specialist for nearly twenty years and is currently the founding director of the pain management department at Santa Cruz Community Health. As a student of meditation for over 30 years, as well as a certified yoga teacher and meditation teacher trained at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. He splits his time between Santa Cruz, CA and Kauai.
To learn more, click here > The Power of Awe