Hey sleep enthusiast, what's it like for you to find happiness within yourself and choose a positive outlook in your daily life? Maybe when you’re having a few nights of consistent sleep it comes easier. But when sleep is just not happening by night and your energy is low in the day, it can be more challenging. Or non-existent even…?
When your energy is lower than usual, your routine and habits can slip, so you may find yourself low on energy and mood. This can lead to going into behaviours that give some relief in the moment, but may not help you in the long run, like going goblin mode or into some revenge bedtime procrastination. When you're suffering with sleep deprivation, limiting beliefs can also creep in to influence your present outlook. These can come up in mental chatter with thoughts like: ‘nothing excites me anymore’, ‘where do I find the energy to get out of bed in the morning?’ or 'I just want to feel normal’.
Whilst exciting occasions, like holidays and special social events, can be something to look forward to, they may only provide a temporary boost in your mood. Which can leave everyday life seeming a bit meh. This is a common place to feel stuck for clients I work with as a sleep coach, as well as something that I can resonate with from my own past life as an insomniac.
How to find happiness within yourself
Through my years of geeking out on all things sleep, I have learned that feelings of happiness, contentedness and peacefulness tend to come in our daily lives as a byproduct of deeper, inner work. Whilst this may not be the answer that you want to hear (more on that later), there is good news! A hack that can stimulate happiness, as well as many other aspects of well-being, is the experience of awe.
Awe is what we feel in moments that are almost overwhelmingly wonderful, where you can’t take an experience fully in. Like when you breathe in the expansive view from a mountain as you reach the summit. Or sharing a spine-tingling dance in a sea of other people with their hands in the air at a gig. It is also something that you can cultivate in small ways within yourself. You can do this for free, today, to boost your well-being and help with sleep. So let’s explore awe!
What is awe?
The word ‘awesome’ is used casually in conversation, yet it originates from something more profound. In his book, Awe: The Transformative Power of Everyday Wonder, Psychology professor Dacher Keltner defines it as: ‘the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world’. Awe-inspiring experiences are reported to typically take place with nature, through mystic or spiritual encounters, in rituals where people gather to enjoy music, dance or other ceremonies, as well as through psychedelic experiences.
What happens to your brain during awe?
The reason why awe can be self-transcendent, according to Dacher Keltner, is because the emotion reduces activity in the default mode network of the brain. This is where information is processed from the perspective of self or ego, so iy lowers potential self-consciousness, anxiety, self-criticism and low self-esteem. Some familiar friends from the insomnia experience right there!
With those responses quietened, this is where the experience of perceiving yourself as smaller than the greatness of the awe-insiring experience comes from. Leaving more mental space to open into an expansive sense of connection to something greater than yourself. As Dacher Keltner puts it: "Awe shifts us from a competitive, dog-eat-dog mindset to perceive that we are part of networks of more interdependent, collaborating individuals."
Benefits of awe
The effects of awe on the brain induce a quick way to stimulate change in our sense of being. This can help with shifting out of apathy and into new possibilities. Whilst researchers are still seeking to understand more about the full impact of awe, some of the known benefits so far include:
Reduced somatic health symptoms, including aches, insomnia, and fatigue,
More resilience, when dealing with work and stress generally,
Enhanced physical health (less inflammatories which can lead to chronic diseases),
Experiencing more connection to others,
Overall greater life satisfaction through feeling ‘rich in time’.
The good news is that it the ability to experience awe is already an innate part of you. And you don’t need to go all out and climb a mountain to experience it (unless you want to).
Hacks to bring more awe into your life
The trick is to get intentional about being present with external cues that can stimulate awe. By practicing this, you can shift your mood in the moment, as well as creating a habit to generate happiness in the long-term. Connecting to something bigger than yourself can paradoxically be found in the little things, here are some examples that you can try:
Connecting to nature
See if you can find ways to be present with the details of nature, for example: noticing the intricate markings on a flower or taking in the shape of clouds in the sky. See what you may notice - maybe you can spot something new in the familiar surroundings of your neighbourhood and challenge yourself to stay present with that one thing for 5 minutes.
Take an awe walk
This is a simple and scientifically-proven method to generate awe and boost your well-being. Try the steps below, maybe taking a journal with you to note your observations and reflections:
Put your phone on silent to avoid disruptions.
Take a deep breath and feel the air move through your nose. Exhale mindfully.
Reflect on your current physical and emotional state with three words.
Begin an awe walk, feeling your feet on the ground and observing your surroundings.
Notice elements that inspire wonder, like clouds, ants, skyscrapers, or trees.
Explore how awe boosts creativity, innovation, and empathy.
See if this can inspire new perspectives for your life and connections with others.
Stay connected to wonder by anchoring to your breath during the walk.
At the end, describe your state with three words and embrace the power of awe.
When interacting with others, see if you can tune in to what they share in their stories. In particular, if you can notice any courageous, inspiring or innovative ways of being in what they share? You can also feel into collective awe by taking a moment to be present with how it feels to be in a larger gathering. For example: feeling the lively, shared energy at a concert or appreciating the mixture of calm and playfulness and more in the park on a sunny day.
Take inspiration from children
Younger children are skilled at connecting to awe in how they interact with simple, everyday things. If you can spend time with any children through family or friends, observe how they approach new things and interact.
Integrating awe into your way of being
I hope these ways to find awe in small, everyday things can bring some inspiration for things to try in your life. With an unlimited number of ways to connect to awe, different approaches will appeal to different people. This is based on what may be available in your environment and everyday life. These are the kind of details that I help clients to explore in sleep coaching sessions. Essentially, it is about setting time to be open to experience and appreciate what beauty you may find in the moment.
Looking at your time intentionally like this takes presence and commitment. I know these states can sometimes be difficult to access when you’re struggling with sleep, which is where sleep coaching can help. I work one on one with clients to review the details of their waking hours, as well as their sleep hygiene and other practical factors. In working together, we optimise their lifestyle for better sleep, which is the deep inner work I mentioned earlier in this blog article. You can look at how the different aspects of your lifestyle support your sleep in the mind, body and environment guides.
In taking a comprehensive look at all aspects of well-being to find a lifestyle that works for the individual and is enjoyable! This looks different for everyone, so there’s some trial and error involved, which is why I’m there for accountability along the way.
You can find out more about sleep coaching here and if you have any questions about your specific sleep struggles, you can book a free discovery call to find out more about what may work for you. Or, if you are curious to find out more about more things you can try yourself to support your sleep, check out the articles below.