"Experiencing the night sky...triggers a host of physical and psycological benefits, from boosting creativity and lowering stress to making us care more about the wellbeing of our planet."
- Jo Marchant, Author, The Human Cosmos
Although studying the science of awe is in its early stages, emerging results suggest this emotion has multiple benefits for a healthy life, society and planet. Stargazing is one of the best ways to experience awe and photos of the starry night sky are often used to trigger feelings of awe in scientific research.
Creativity and curiosity
Scientists studying the emotion of awe – “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world” – have found that it makes us more curious and creative. Their research showed that after people had experienced awe, they could remember details of a short story better. Rather than relying on assumptions, they paid attention to what actually happened. People also came up with more original examples in tests and took more time tackling difficult tasks. Experiencing something beyond our comprehension seems to gift us the ability to break out of our everyday thinking and assumptions, see the world afresh and come up with new ideas.
Health and quality of life
Studies have also shown that people who have experienced awe are happier and less stressed, even weeks later. The cytokine system is part of the immune system. Cytokines are chemical messengers produced by cells in damaged tissue that triggers an inflammatory response that kills pathogens and heals wounds. However, a hyperactive cytokine response – such as the cytokine storms seen in severe COVID-19 cases – where too many cytokine messengers are produced and the body starts attacking itself, can make someone chronically sick and vulnerable to disease. Although the research is in its early stages, when scientists looked at the relationship between the cytokine system and various positive emotions, they found that of all the positive emotions, only awe seemed to show reduced levels of cytokines.
Feeling more connected
Viewing the night sky is a way to connect with something greater than ourselves. To realise we are part of something much bigger – so vast we can barely comprehend it. This realisation helps to take us out of ourselves and focus on a bigger picture. Momentarily, our worries and anxieties fade and we begin to feel more connected to each other and to the messy, beautiful universe in which we find ourselves.
Awe research has shown this feeling of connectedness has an impact on our actions, making us more ready to help others. In one experiment, one set of volunteers were asked to look at a tall tree for two minutes – long enough to induce a feeling of awe - and another set were asked to look at a science building for two minutes. Afterwards, each set of volunteers witnessed a faked accident where a person fell and dropped pens all over the floor. The volunteers who looked at the tree picked up more pens than those that looked at the science building.
Other studies have found that awe—more so than emotions like pride or amusement—leads people to cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice for others, all of which are requirements for our collective life.
As you look at the stars above, think about those that exploded billions of years ago and created the atoms that make up you and me. In our shared atoms, we are part of everything and everyone. We are all connected. We are stardust.
If you'd like to try stargazing but aren't sure where to begin keep an eye out for my upcoming FREE night sky nature journaling project (December 2022) by signing up to my email newsletter, the Stardust Journal, or go ahead and buy the Stars & Stories Winter Stargazing Adventure Pack - a beautiful digital pack with all the information and support you need to take yourself (and your partner and family if you wish!) on an awe-inspiring journey to a corner of the Northern Hemisphere's night sky.