Category Inspiration

On Emotions, Cognition, and Comedy: An Introduction

Hello everyone! My name is Melissa Cesarano, and I am a new member of the rethinkED team for the 2015-2016 school year. To introduce myself, I’d like to begin by stating that I’m quite an eccentric human with eclectic tastes and talents. I’m a yogi, actress, comedian/improviser, poet, and cognitive scientist! I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (Quakersssss!!!) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cognitive Studies and Philosophy of Mind, and a minor in Poetics. Currently, I’m a PhD student at Columbia University in Cognitive Studies in Education. I also work at a biotech company, Evoke Neuroscience, where I serve as the company’s science writer, lecturer, and research associate. At Evoke, I’m also training to receive a certification in biofeedback and neurofeedback, which will help me acquire a more holistic approach to emotional and psychological wellness, in addition to my more academic brain expertise. Additionally, I’m attending comedy school at The Peoples Improv Theater and The Upright Citizens Brigade. I’ve co-founded my own NYC sketch comedy group, Laundry Day Comedy, and believe strongly that humor, play, and creativity are essential to our epistemic growth and self-realization as life long students; as Ludwig Wittgenstein so elegantly stated, “If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.”

My research as a Doctoral Candidate focuses on emotions. In undergrad, I felt that the cognitive realm was academically interesting, yet lacked the poetry, color, and humanity that I yearned for as an artist and creative. Admittedly, there seemed to be a lack of understanding as to where/how to fit emotions into a cognitive framework. Therefore, about two years into graduate school education, I resolved to undertake the task of understanding emotions from a cognitive perspective.

Emotions are difficult to comprehend intellectually even though they’re an integral part of our everyday lives. Nevertheless, they certainly color our interactions with others, motivate our behaviors, elucidate our passions, and are essential to our experience as humans. To clarify, they are a phenomenological manifestation of the things that matter to us. For a brief introduction to emotions (What Emotions Are (and Aren’t)) I recommend reading this riveting article in The New York Times by Lisa Feldman Barrett, the head honcho in Emotion Research (I like to call her ‘The Big LFB’):

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/opinion/sunday/what-emotions-are-and-arent.html?_r=0

Specifically, the research that I’ve been conducting at Columbia, along with my research partner Ilya, relates to teaching people abstract models of the Human Emotion System (HES). Creating accurate mental models of our own emotional functioning and grounding these principles in tangible real-life emotional situations, seems to increase self-regulation through increased self-awareness of emotional functioning in a variety of different experiential contexts. The topic of my dissertation, however, deals with the ‘naïve’ mental models that people acquire intuitively through everyday life experience prior to explicit learning of the HES. Arriving at a deeper understanding of people’s HES intuitions and misconceptions (and the cognitive processes that underlie them) through careful epistemological inquiry, should thus allow for a more effective teaching of the HES model and other social-emotional learning (SEL) concepts.

Basically, I think it’s really insane that students are taught things like ‘the laws of physics’ in school, but are never taught the ‘laws of emotions’, the causal relations and principles of our own emotional functioning. Instead, we are left with the difficult and daunting task of pretty blindly dealing with these powerful and mysterious forces. Interestingly, emotionality is delegated to ‘higher learning’, a Psych 101 lecture in the hallowed spaces of America’s college halls.

Finally, I would like to join Ali in saying that it is an absolute privilege to be a part of such an inspiring community here at Riverdale. We hope to enlighten you and to contribute to the ever-evolving educational landscape at this prestigious school. Keep a lookout for upcoming posts from the rethinkED team!

With gratitude and an abundance of smiles,

Mel

[rethinking Purpose & Passion]: multipotentiality vs. one true calling… *

rethinking passion…*

Last year, both Elsa and I wrote about rethinking passion [here and here]. I argued that childhood should be about exploration, rather than passion. I also cited the importance of hard work, setbacks, and struggles in developing passion. Similarly, Elsa spoke of shifting from a “passion” mindset to a “craftman’s” mindset, which she describes as “a relentless focus on activating one’s unique potential by continually pushing to develop one’s skills and acquire new ones” A craftsman mindset involves deliberate practice of valuable skills.

what is purpose?…*

This year, rethinkED…* has been thinking about purpose and how to instill purpose in students. Yet what is purpose? Personally, I argue against the notion of pushing students to define one unified purpose for their lives. Instead, I believe we should cultivate multiple purposes and overall purposefulness in our students. Rather than having just one purpose, do with purpose.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?…*

Especially in today’s society, it seems rather rare to have just one passion. With this in mind, I was enthralled by a recent TED talk by Emilie Wapnick, a career coach who speaks to those without “one true calling.” Recollecting the overwhelming anxiety of the question “what do you want to be when you grow up,” she explains that it is not that students have no interest but rather than they sometimes have too many. She says that,

“while this question inspires kids to dream about what they could be, it does not inspire them to dream about all that they could be”

This question is part of the overall societal pressure we place upon children to pick one thing, to choose which of the things that they love and make a career out of it. She continues,

“The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling, the idea that we each have one great thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth, and you need to figure out what that thing is and devote your life to it.”

However, we leave many, many people out of this narrative. People who do many wonderful things across their lives, who have many things they are curious about and many different things that they want to do. People she calls multipotentialites.

MULTIPOTENTIALITES…*

She defines multipotentialites as those with many pursuits, the modern-day “Renaissance” men (and women). Rather than thinking of this flitting from interest to interest as a limitation, Emilie cites three super powers that multipotentialites can possess:

  1. Idea synthesis- Combining two or more fields and finding something new and exciting at the intersection. Innovation happens at these intersections.
  2. Rapid learning- Multipotentialites are comfortable at being beginners or “accomplished novices”.
  3. Adaptability- With many skills, you can morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation.

She states that there are many complex, multidimensional world problems that need solving right now, and the ideal team for such problems is a specialist and a multipotentialite paired together. She concludes by stating

“…embrace your many passions. Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly — multipotentialites, the world needs us.”

ARGUMENT AGAINST THE MULTIPOTENTIALITE..*

Overall, Emilie does not advocate for one path through life but rather believes that we should support individuals who aim for breadth (multipotentialites) as much as we support individuals who aim for depth (specialists). This fits with the idea of exploration alongside passion.

However, one criticism that could be put upon Emilie’s argument is that most students would rather be multipotentialites, flitting from interest to interest, rather than dig in and put hard work into one specific thing. In terms of grit and deliberate practice, it is far easier to shift gears when something gets hard or tedious. In terms of success, research suggests that being gritty and putting in the work is very important.

Purposeful, gritty pursuit of multiple passions…*

Instead, I would argue that the ideal falls somewhere in the middle. We should encourage students to pursue multiple passions, but we should also discourage students from straying from an interest when it simply becomes too challenging. Further, in order to use the “idea synthesis” superpower, students must actively reflect on the themes and ways in which their various interests connect. I am passionate about education research and studio art. I can cultivate these two passions simultaneously. More importantly, I seek inspiration from my artwork in my research. I seek respite from the intellectual rigor of school in the flow state I get when painting. I integrate the two when I design research studies and develop compelling presentations. My overall philosophy on life, truth, and knowledge is inextricably tied to the meaning I’ve distilled from these pursuits.

Your life does not need to be played on a single instrument. Yet only through hard work will you play any one instrument well. And only through learning how to combine the sounds of each together in harmony can you create a symphony…* 

 

#RethinkHighSchool with XQ: The Super School Project

This month, the rethinkED team is getting excited about XQ: The Super School Project, Launched by Laurene Powell Jobs, this design challenge invites teams to reimagine the next American High School. Winners will receive support and $50 million to make their idea into a reality.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 2.50.26 PM

Source: http://xqsuperschool.org/challenge

According to the XQ institute, XQ is the agile and flexible intelligence that prepares students for a more connected world, a rapidly changing future, and a lifetime of learning. It is a combination of IQ (cognitive capabilities) and EQ (emotional intelligence or how we learn in the world).

Soliciting “What If..”s from the world, the XQ project is a design thinking challenge operating on a massive scale. The challenge is broken into 4 phases: 1) Assemble a team, 2) Discover the landscape of education, 3) Design a super school for the community, and 4) Develop a formidable plan.

RethinkED is going to team up with other innovative and talented individuals for an intense day of dreaming and designing next week. As you’ve seen, we have a lot of ideas surround character education, interdisciplinary pedagogies, and community-focused learning, and we are excited to merge these into a coherent plan of action to #RethinkHighSchool.

P.S. The rethinkED team has recently grown! We have two new members, and we are super excited for you to meet them.

 

unleashing creativity with d.global…*

Hello, fellow rethinkers! I took a break this past summer from posting, but I am excited to be back and to share excited ideas about education with you.

This past weekend I participated in a d.global workshop, a design thinking challenge that the d.school at Stanford is taking around the world with the goal of unleashing the creative potential in all of us.nycinvite

In this seven-hour workshop, we went through a design thinking process to seek new insights and understandings towards large problems attendees were facing in their day-to-day lives. We began with three postures – short activities meant to establish a culture with specific norms and values. I discuss two below:

creative postures…*

Our first posture – “I am a tree”- brought everyone into the mindset of stepping forward and taking risks. This is an improv game where one person begins by standing as a tree in the center of the circle and states “I am a tree.” Next, another team member steps in and states what she is to complete the setting. For example, “I am a bird.” A third person then steps in and could say, “I am bird poop.” The first person steps out of the scene and chooses one person to remove as well, and then the game continues. Here’s a youtube video of an improv team performing “I am a tree,” since it is far easier to understand if you watch it happening.

After reflecting on risk-taking, we began our second posture – “Tada!” This game seeks to reframe failure. Teams of two play a variety of counting games where it is very easy to mess up. After reflecting on how our body language and demeanor was affected by these mess ups, we were instructed to instead shout “Tada!” each time our group failed, complete with a step forward and spirit fingers.

design challenges…*

In an ideation session, we developed questions pertinent to our own life goals and struggles. I focused on how to seek a work/life balance and how to better structure my days.IMG_7768

We then shared and synthesized these questions into more broad goals that groups of 5-6 could rally around. My group asked “How to design a life that has meaningful impact and is meaningful / life-giving to you?” Other questions are included in the photos below.IMG_7766IMG_7770

In a surprise twist, we were then tasked with seeking inspiration and ideas to solve another group’s problem, rather than our own. Our group was looking into the question “how to find passion and a reason to get out of bed in the morning” We spent time with the other group, building empathy and deeper understand of their question. We realized that the members of this group had diverse reasons for asking this question. Some were overwhelmed. Others lacked focus or drive. Generally, they all had issues around goal-setting and motivation. With this in mind, we began our three hour exploration of NYC, seeking inspiration and new perspectives to bring back with us.

how to life a motivated and passionate life...*

Our journey to seek empathy and new perspectives led us to talk to many people, and the conversations we had were wonderful and inspiring. A barista at a local coffee shop spoke of how his day job paid the bills while his passion was to become a theologian. He was slowly obtaining a Masters in Theology at night. He advised us to first focus on what has to get done, and then focus on what you’d like to get done. An employee at Old Navy worked two jobs during the day and found both to be fun and fulfilling. Outside of work, she was an aspiring dancer. Her advice to those who dread leaving bed in the morning was to be patient and to mix it up every once in a while.

Last, we spoke with a highly regarded trainer at a luxury fitness enter. He spoke of setting a combination of short and long-term goals and holding yourself accountable by writing things down and telling your friends or family about your goals.

Our final task as a group was to create a gift for the group we were designing for, based on our experiences that day. We decided to combine all of the nuggets of wisdom we noted throughout our exploration into a “choose your own adventure” poster, shown below:

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HOW TO LIVE A MEANINGFUL AND LIFE-GIVING LIFE…*

The group designing for us gifted us with a line from the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson shown below. This line is a beautiful representation of the desire to do good in the world that our group was struggling with.

I felt invigorated by the exploration of my city and inspired by the wonderful minds I spent the day designing with. This year, I hope to bring a similar experience to the Riverdale community.

Thank you, d.global, for a tremendous experience!

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A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco …*

Dear rethinkers,

An apology is in order as we’ve gone rather silent on the blog these past two weeks! We’re back to our regular posting schedule and you can look forward to our daily posts. To jazz up our apology, thought I’d share a “lost and found” poem I’ve made from assembled graffiti spotted around San Francisco. Excuse the dubious image quality, all photographs were snapped on the go with my aging and tired phone.

Enjoy & rethink …* 


Kill your TV and read

Dream

Ask questions

Listen

Comfort kills

Travel this young moment in pursuit of magic

Create a glory ride

Expect a miracle

Why?

I hope

Love can outlast everything


A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

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A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

. . .

Dedicated to Grateful Greg & Pierre, whoever and wherever you are, and rethinkers …* everywhere

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

Mentor a child, change her life…*

Mentor a child…*

About a year ago, an acquaintance of mine from college made a Facebook post that deeply affected me. This man was currently attending a prestigious business school, had already worked a few years at a prestigious financial firm, and graduated with me from a top liberal arts school. His post was a picture of himself and his mentor from the program Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring organization that creates relationships that transform children’s lives. In the post, he credited his mentor for helping him obtain the life he has today. I was so moved that I immediately started googling “mentoring in NYC,” determined to make the kind of impact that his mentor did.

In a nation-wide study of Big Brothers Big Sisters, researchers found that children who were randomly assigned to the program versus those not yet in the program were more confident about school performance, had better relationships with their families, and were:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
  • 52% less likely to skip school
  • 37% less likely to skip a class
  • 33% less likely to hit someone

(source: bbs.org)

With results like that, it seems like creating one-to-one partnerships could be one powerful solution for improving educational outcomes for low-SES students.

My Mentoring Experience…*

I’m not completely new to the mentoring game. In college, I led a small female-oriented mentoring group called Ophelia’s Girls that worked in group sessions with middle school and high school students in a nearby very rural town. We provided a safe space for students to talk and aimed to serve as role models for these girls who – statistically speaking – were likely to drop out of high school before graduating.

As a 20-something, I was now hoping to have more of a one-on-one relationship where I could potentially make a greater impact on one girls’ life. I ultimately chose to participate in iMentor, a school-based mentoring program where matches email once per week and see one another at least one time each month. iMentor’s mission is to build  “mentoring relationships that empower students from low-income communities to graduate high school, succeed in college, and achieve their ambitions.” Students participate in iMentor through their high schools, where they have iMentor class once a week and stay after school for events that generally revolve around college preparedness and goal-setting.

One year ago, I signed up for a three-year match in the College Transition Program with a student that I would mentor from 11th grade through her first year of college. I was matched with Madina*, a girl living in Brooklyn who had just moved from Uzbekistan a few years ago. Over the past 10 months, we have slowly built a relationship, navigating a strong language barrier and a myriad of cultural differences. Madina speaks 3 languages fluently but still has a lot of trouble communicating in English. She juggles working a night job with her schoolwork and helps her parents take care of her younger sister. She knows she wants to go to college, but she lacks a tremendous amount of cultural capital around what college is and what different occupations entail. Together, we struggle to stay openminded about each other’s customs and cultures; she is from a conservative Muslim background, and I am a fairly liberal Jew.

When I first signed up for the program, I was prepared to help change somebody’s life. What I didn’t expect was how much she would change mine. I never fully understood the barriers immigrant students face every day. I also have been blown away by her kindness and generosity – she got me a birthday present and has cooked her favorite foods for me to try. It has been challenging to get her to open up, but as she has I have been fascinated by her life and world. It is unbelievable how vastly different our lives are, and I learn something new from her every day.

The Power of Mentoring…*

I’m not the only one thinking about how important mentoring is for low-SES students. In Michael Benko’s TEDxOU talk, he also speaks to the power of having a person investing in your life at a young age. Currently, there is a 1:500 ratio of guidance counselors to students in our school system. Benko’s idea is to give everyone their own success counselor, matching college students with high school students online.

In Lori Hunt’s TEDxCCS talk, she talks about the power of mentoring. She first talks about her struggles in the beginning of college, failing courses at a 4-year college she was not academically prepared for. Lori actually does not advocate for a particular program, but instead talks about informal mentors – the types of mentorships that occur organically. Her work study advisor became her mentor, helping her find the tools to make the right decision. She, like my friend from college, credits her with changing her life.

 

There are many avenues to mentoring. The bottom line is that these experiences are challenging at times but immensely life-changing on both sides of the match. If you are not already, I’d urge you to get involved in a mentoringship – it will open your eyes and could help change the trajectory of someone’s life.

 

 

*Name and some facts changed to protect her privacy.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get-your-hands-dirty way”

On May 29, 2105, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave the commencement address to Wellesley’s graduating class. With her characteristic insight and power, Adichie asks the class of 2015 to help rethink and redefine feminism and what it means to be in the world as a woman, “Feminism should be an inclusive party. Feminism should be a party full of different feminisms.” I’ve transcribed some highlights below, but highly recommend watching the full speech. 

. . . *

 

Try and create the world you want to live in. Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get-your-hands-dirty way.
. . . *

 

Think about what really matters to you. Think about what you want to really matter to you.
. . . *

 

All over the world, girls are raised to make themselves likable; to twist themselves into shapes that suit other people. Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like a twisted shape and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you. The real you, as you are.
. . . *

 

I don’t speak to provoke. I speak because I think our time on earth is short and each moment that we are not our truest selves, each moment we pretend to be what we are not, each moment we say what we do not mean because we imagine that it’s what somebody wants us to say, then, we are wasting our time on earth. I don’t mean to sound precious, but please don’t waste your time on earth.
. . . *

 

Never, ever accept, “because you are a woman” as a reason for doing or not doing anything.
. . . *

 

Girls are often raised to see love as only giving. Women are praised for their love, when that love is an act of giving. But to love is to give and to take. Please love by giving and taking. Give and be given. If you’re only giving and not taking, you’ll know; you’ll know from that small and true voice inside you that we females are so often socialized to silence. Don’t silence that voice. Dare to take.
. . . *

advocating for a { liberal arts } education

Liberal Arts…*

I am returning today from my 5 year college reunion, and the weekend has left me nostalgic for the wonderful experience I had at my small liberal arts school. I am a biased advocate, not just for liberal arts but for small colleges in small college towns. My time at Colgate University reinvigorated my love of learning, and the small close-knit, isolated town in upstate New York was the perfect environment to cultivate focus, passion, and community.

IMG_6174As Patrick Awuah explains in his TEDGlobal talk How to educate leaders? Liberal arts — the liberal arts education instills

the ability to confront problems, complex problems, and to design solutions to those problems. The ability to create is the most empowering thing that can happen to an individual.

My coursework at Colgate prepared me to be a critical thinker and a strong writer. The community empowered us to ask questions that people weren’t asking, to learn with skepticism and a critical eye.

Interconnectedness...*

Another strength of liberal arts is that it emphasizes the interconnectedness of our world. As Liz Coleman talks about in A call to reinvent liberal arts education,

The progression of today’s college student is to jettison every interest except one. And within that one, to continually narrow the focus, learning more and more about less and less; this, despite the evidence all around us of the interconnectedness of things.

Coleman argues that the true liberal arts education is dying, but at the root of it should be social activism and a breadth perspective.

I love this idea because it relates to my recent post about rethinking passion. Rather than narrowing down to just one thing, the liberal arts education is well-rounded, mandating that learners take courses in many different departments. As an undergraduate Psychology major, I took courses in English Literature, Astronomy, Geography, Women’s Studies, Economics, Education, and Art History. I also fulfilled a core curriculum including a course about the Middle East and the class about the fallibility of memory that inspired my love of research – Science and the Malleability of the Mind.

Community…*

Best of all, as Alexandra Rice explains in her article Top 5 Reasons to Apply to a Liberal Arts College, liberal arts schools create a more cohesive community among faculty and students. Small classes invite more discussion and – at least at my school – a lack of graduate students led to more research opportunities for undergraduates. By the time I was a senior in college, I was a lab manager with three years of research experience. I developed close relationships with my professors, who opened their homes to us for the occasional dinner and some of whom I still keep in touch with today…*

More pictures below. Isn’t my alma mater beautiful?

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Photo courtesy of jless713 and colgate2010

Photo courtesy of jless713 and colgate2010

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps …*

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

The starting point of my Zigzag Walk …*

 

Last week I wrote about Stephen Graham’s delightful little game of the Zigzag Walk, which is a framework for exploration that enhances opportunities for discovery and serendipity. The rules are quite simple: you select a starting point and from there turn left and then right at subsequents crossroads. Being in San Francisco for the first time, I was eager to try out this exercise for myself and spent part of Monday morning going on a Zigzag walk. I started at a corner a few streets down from the apartment where I am staying where, on the pavement, was engraved the phrase: ‘ask questions’. It seemed a particularly appropriate starting point.

My Zigzag Walk was a delightful experience which allowed me to get lost in the best way, discovering new streets and neighborhoods. It was also the perfect antidote to Google Maps. Since I’ve never been to San Francisco before, I have been relying pretty heavily on Google Maps to get me to where I need to be but I’ve noticed that whenever I ask it to lead me home it always highlights the same, and rather boring, route. I’ve since come to realize that this may be to help me avoid San Francisco’s many (and often ridiculously steep) hills. But I’m only here for a short time, I don’t want to keep going over the same route, even if it saves me from a few hills. I’d rather endure the slight discomfort of huffing and puffing my way up hills for the tradeoff of discovery and serendipitous discoveries in this beautiful city (sounds like a metaphor for something else…*) Until Google Maps puts out a “Serendipity” option on its routes (which, by the way, Google, please take note), the Zigzag Walk is a brilliant and free way to discover a city and its many hidden treasures.

e x p l o r e   &   r e t h i n k   . . .

the power of [ awe…* ]

The Power of Awe…for altruism*

The NY Times published a great Op Ed this past Friday called Why Do We Experience Awe? In it, psychologist professors’ Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner cite studies that demonstrate the power of experiencing awe, “that often-positive feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.” Experiences of awe are those that give you goosebumps.

In a series of studies, the authors found that awe is a “collective” emotion that motivates us to be altruistic – to act in collaborative ways and care more for the greater good than for ourselves. In one study, people were either given a few minutes to look at awe-inspiring Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees or to look at the facade of a science building nearby. Afterwards, an experimenter “dropped” a handful of pens. Those who spent the previous few minutes staring at the trees picked up more pens to help the other person.

Photo Credit: Institute of Paper Science & Technology (http://www.rbi.gatech.edu/)

Photo Credit: Institute of Paper Science & Technology (http://www.rbi.gatech.edu/)

In another experiment, participants who wrote about past experiences of awe or watched nature scenes for five minutes cooperated more and shared more resources.

The authors explain that

…awe imbues people with a different sense of themselves, one that is smaller, more humble and part of something larger… fleeting experiences pf awe redefine the self in terms of the collective, and orient our actions toward the needs of those around us.

The Power of Awe…for your health*

Other research has indicated that awe is also beneficial for your health. One study found a strong correlation between experiencing positive emotions and low IL-6 levels, a molecule that promotes inflammation in the body. The stronger correlation was between levels of inflammation and having felt awe-struck.

The college students in their study reported feeling this “awe-struck” emotion 3 or more times a week, which is good news. Awe-inspiring experiences are out there if you look for them.

My Awe-filled Weekend…*

Piff and Keltner worry that today’s culture is awe deprived. The cite art, nature, and simple quotidian acts of humanity as places to find this awe and suggest that we more actively pursue awe-inspiring moments.

In a place like NYC, there are ample opportunities to find awe, if you take the time to look for it. Over the weekend I noted my own experiences of awe.

On Friday I visited the MoMA – a wonderful place to appreciate the beauty and wonder expressed upon a canvas. While there, I discovered a painting I had never seen before, entitled Hide-and-Seek by Pavel Tchelitchew (1942). This image is a game of hide and seek on its own, and the longer you stare the more images you find hidden in the canvas.

Hide-and-Seek (1942)

Hide-and-Seek (1942)

I spent Sunday at Coney Island, where the old school amusement park, giant busy boardwalk, and aquarium provided countless experiences of awe. Luna Park is a place out of an earlier time, with old wooden roller coasters and traditional carnival games. It was a wonderful break from the modern-day technological world to co-experience the joy of more simple entertainment.

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On the Coney Island Boardwalk, the colliding of cultures and experiences make for an awe-inspiring experience. There were dance parties, snake-charmers, and people of all ages, races, and cultures coming together to enjoy the beautiful weather (and Nathan’s hotdogs from its original location).

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At the New York Aquarium, we were mesmerized by tropical fish, sharks, and sting rays. I saw a sea lion show sitting beside two young children and together we delighted in the sea lions’ tricks.

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I hope you all had a similarly awe-inspiring weekend! Until next week…*

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