Sense of awe can ground us in challenging times, David P. Fessell writes in Harvard Business Review

September 14, 2021


Center for Positive Organizations faculty associate David P. Fessell explains “Why You Need to Protect Your Sense of Wonder — Especially Now” in the Harvard Business Review.

The article, co-authored with positive psychology researcher Karen Reivich, examines how a healthy sense of awe can help us reduce stress, boost well-being, and feel more energized. The authors suggest that individuals, managers, and teams can pursue the benefits of awe to help ease the transition back to the office as the COVID-19 pandemic moves into a new phase.

But what is awe anyway? The researchers cite CPO faculty associate Ethan Kross’ definition of awe as, “the wonder we feel when we encounter something powerful that we can’t easily explain,” such as the starry night sky or an unexpected act of kindness. Fessell and Reivich also say awe has an element of vastness that can make us feel small, jolting us from self-rumination and into a more connected, compassionate state.

“We spend much of our time at work trying to stake our claim and make our voices heard. It can feel counterintuitive to engage in something that might stimulate feelings of ‘smallness,’ ” the researchers write. “But doing so through a positive experience of awe can, in the end, bring us that sense of grounding we’re searching for, along with a multitude of benefits — such as energy, inspiration, and resilience — for ourselves and for our teams.”

Fessell is a creativity consultant, executive coach, and Professor of Radiology at the University of Michigan.