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Your Brain on Awe

by James Needham

3 min read

Why 2024 is the year of awe.

You’ve been wonderstruck.

The joyous mix of fear and wonder will surprise us all this year.

Call it vengeance for the false start to the decade, but our need to be human, together, will reignite our worlds.

Revenge of our DNA

We are a herd species and when you take our need to socialise away, you rob us of our fundamental instinct.

We are hard-wired to feel good in face-to-face interactions and social connections. It gives us a sense of belonging, calms us, drops our blood pressure and heart rate and regulates our nervous system.

For many, our worlds were shrunk to the size of our homes or postcodes for months that ran into years. We saw the same few people and places IRL on repeat until life felt like a photocopy of a photocopy.

The loneliness epidemic is real, indiscriminate and far-reaching and our need to reignite genuine human connection has never been stronger.

Nearly 1 in 4 adults across the world have reported feeling very or fairly lonely, a recent Meta-Gallup survey has found.

The new survey, taken across 142 countries, found that the rates of loneliness were highest in young adults.

27% of young adults ages 19 to 29 reporting feeling very or fairly lonely.

While the scars are still healing, the antidote for the trauma of COVID-19 is a voracious desire to reconnect with people, places and cultures and experience a deeper, more profound appreciation for the things that matter in life.

Chase those feels

We are all seeking a “collective effervescence” that shifts me to we.

Recent work published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology demonstrates how our desire to experience a shared sense of curiosity and awe about the world actually increases empathy and reduces anxiety and loneliness.

Just the act of experiencing something as a group ignites a sort of electricity generated by closeness and shared experience.

“While we’re feeling small in an awe moment, we are feeling connected and closer to others. That’s awe’s purpose.”

Dr. Yang Bai,
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

When we are together, our physiological bodies and our emotions align, and we shift from an egocentric view of seeing the world through our eyes only, to a shared attention.

This convergence in mind leads to goodwill, cooperation, and a transformed sense of self as part of a community.

Might sound too hippy-dippy Woodstock to some, but just look at the rise in middle-class microdosing magic mushrooms and other hallucinogens that has nearly doubled over the past three years.

We are looking for new ways to heal ourselves and connect with the world and each other.

Even without the drugs, it takes just a handful of people “to stir collective awe,” and can be initiated by something as simple as walking together.

Maybe the next World Leaders Summit needs fewer boardrooms and more backpacks…

Activating awe in 2024

Bring on the spontaneous tingles of fear and wonder.

More than half of travellers would pack their bags, head to the airport and fly to an unknown destination.

We will take up new hobbies or rediscover old ones. 59% of us wouldn’t consider giving up our favourite pastimes no matter how much they cost.

We’ll recontact friends from lives past, rekindle old memories and create new ones.

We’ll walk together in nature, take up dancing or join a sports club.

We’ll visit galleries, live music and immersive theatre.

We’ll find ways to build awe into our daily lives.

We will human again.

Hit me up with your plans for awe in 24′.

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James Needham

→ Over 20 years experience across APAC and the UK helping redefine some of the world’s most iconic and effective brands, and leading complex research and segmentation projects from Budget Direct, Big4, Crime Stoppers, RACV and CommBank.

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