Feeling Awe Slows Down Time—Or at Least, It Seems that Way

Candice Gaukel Andrews October 2, 2012 11

A sense of awe—inspired by nature—can make us feel that time has slowed down. ©Eric Rock

Feeling pressed for time? Silly question, right? With smartphones, tablets, computers and other electronic devices constantly competing with our real-world lives and work and family obligations, who doesn’t feel rushed?

We all know that nature can make us nicer, healthier and happier individuals. But now, according to a new study, nature—which inspires in us a sense of awe—can make us feel that time is more plentiful, at least for a bit.

Joy vs. awe—they’re not the same thing

In a report recently published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers set up a series of three experiments. In the first, 63 student participants were given a word-scramble test. Half of the students got time-related word scrambles, such as “not available enough time much,” meant to remind them of the feeling that time is short.

In the study, the video designed to elicit awe contained shots of whales breaching, gorgeous waterfalls and natural landscapes. ©Eric Rock

The participants then watched a one-minute video designed to elicit either happiness or awe. The happiness video showed parades, confetti and smiling, joyful people. The awe video depicted astronauts in space, whales breaching and landscapes with waterfalls. After the video, the students filled out surveys with questions about how crunched for time they felt.

The results indicated that the people who had viewed the awe-inducing video felt that time was more plentiful than the people who had watched the happiness video—even among the participants who had been cued to think of time as short with the word-scramble task.

In the next two experiments, the researchers asked two other groups of volunteers to either read or write about awe-inducing experiences or about neutral or happy times. When asked to write about an awesome experience, people described encounters with art, music and nature. They then filled out surveys with questions about patience, volunteerism and life satisfaction.

Leave the electronic devices at home at least once a week, and go take a walk in the woods. ©Eric Rock

The participants cued to recall an awe-inducing moment reported feeling less impatient and more willing to spend time helping others. They also preferred to spend hypothetical money on experiences rather than on material goods. For example, those who had just envisioned an awe-inspiring outdoor view were more likely to say they’d buy a $50 ticket to a Broadway show than spend the same amount of money on a watch.

Put down the iPhone, and drop your jaw instead

With your hectic day-to-day life, finding something out there that actually gives you the sense that you have more time is rare. Although the researchers can’t say how long the awe effect lasts, it is likely that the emotion makes you focus on the moment, which is becoming a lost art.

In July, The New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, “Perhaps wilderness is an antidote to our postindustrial self-absorption. It’s a place to be deflated, humbled and awed all at once. It’s a window into a world larger than ourselves, one that doesn’t respond to a remote.”

Maybe we all need to leave the phones and tablets at home at least once a week, and go take a walk in the woods.

Maybe we all need to take the time to be truly awed.

When did you last experience the sensation of being awed? Where were you? Did you feel as if time had stopped?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,


Discover your own awe-inspiring moment in nature on a Natural Habitat Adventures trip! From grizzly tours in Alaska to whale-watching in Mexico to gorilla photo safaris in Uganda, our goal at Natural Habitat Adventures is to provide our travelers with wildlife encounters that inspire awe and appreciation for nature that lasts a lifetime. 


  1. Majorie Wellman October 23, 2012 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Very nice post — especially in these pre-election days and instant everything. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Michele October 14, 2012 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Rodney C. October 8, 2012 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Maybe now the said researchers might extend their worthy researchers into the epiphenomenon that many wildlife specialists experience all of the time.

    My main reference here is tribal Dreamtime experience, in which the events of the individual are merged into a generality of conscious and unconscious confluence, resulting in what seems to be a causal relation between the dreamer and his daily activity in the bush.

    Any wildlife specialist working directly with nature will have anecdotal events to recount that brings a developed mind close to its origins. The moments when an animal stares back with curious intelligence at the presence of the onlooker. It is at this point that time stands still and the intelligence usually housed in the brain of the onlooker is momentarily transferred to the perfection of the nature that stands before him.

    Awe abridges time, precisely because time and consciousness are discontinuous phenomena within the majoritively unconscious matrix that we call reality.


  4. Mike October 6, 2012 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    True. Being in the zone slows time down. Gardening, mountaineering, woodworking and so on.

    Wonderful post.

  5. Kristen Beck October 6, 2012 at 3:33 am - Reply

    I guess I am one of the blessed- I get this feeling while guiding. Seeing manatee swim by our kayaks, watching dolphin fish while giving a stand up paddle board lesson or scouting a new trail and listening to red shoulder hawks for minutes before seeing them.

    Yes I know this feeling and live for it. I work hard to bring others into this reality- showing them that it is ok to slow down, smell the swamp lillies and to connect with the natural world.

    Thank you for posting this!

    “You can learn more in an hour of playing outdoors than in a life time of conversation.” Unknown Author

  6. David October 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    Yes, it is true that the natural world can inspire awe slowing down time as observer and observed become one. I have experienced this personally and in others such as my children. But most profoundly in the eyes of inner city children holding a wild animal while conducting ecological projects. I have also experienced it in great beauties of art. Just yesterday, time slowed at an “altered books” art exhibit at BMoA.

  7. Will October 4, 2012 at 5:34 am - Reply

    Nice post! Very important stuff.

  8. Kathleen Scott October 3, 2012 at 10:09 am - Reply

    Lovely piece, and true. I think of time as elastic–stopping during intense beauty and speeding in stressful periods.

    My last timeless experience was watching the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico from a Galveston Island beach; time measured not by ticking but the changes of light and bloom of color.

  9. Anne October 3, 2012 at 9:09 am - Reply

    that’s a good sentiment – leave your electronics behind and enjoy nature more often. sure wish folks did!

  10. Emily M. October 3, 2012 at 6:36 am - Reply

    I would really like to take a nature trip with you sometime. The only technology being my camera!

  11. Mike October 3, 2012 at 4:30 am - Reply

    Excellent! We call this “being present”. Tracking, knowing every tree, shrub, liana, vine, and plant for it’s edible, medicinal, and utilitarian uses, understanding each biome for it’s seasonal expression and how each micro-environ pushes and pulls the insects, the reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds through the rhythm of each day, each season, and each change in weather, reading bird language and the subtle landscape cues for approaching weather, predators, and prey, all of this combined with the awareness of our own ripples as we interact with the living landscape is how we approach “presencing technologies” or “awe”. I believe it is where the saying, “live every footstep as a prayer” is derived.

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