Awe-inspiring experiences good for relationships, study finds

Polett Villalta says her first deep scuba dive was one of the best experiences of her life. As she descended to 110 feet, a sunken ship slowly became visible in the green-grey water. A turtle swam by.

She and her dive buddies entered the darkness of the ship with a flashlight, and the wreck “came alive,” she says. Colorful coral grew over the submerged steel; parrotfish and angelfish darted in and out of shadows. She dropped to the sand and touched the bottom of the ocean.

“I can’t describe an experience like that, being part of an element that feels a lot bigger than me,” says Ms. Villalta, a 39-year-old Web developer who lives in Hallandale Beach, Fla., and has been paralyzed from the chest down since she was 12. “It’s like nothing else matters

Want to improve your life? Go do something awesome.

The actual feeling of awe, and experiences that inspire it, benefit us in all sorts of ways, from stronger health to improved relationships, according to several recent studies.

Researchers have found “awe experiences” increase our prosocial behaviors, making us more generous and more humble. They increase our “empathic accuracy,” so we recognize another person’s emotional expression and respond with concern. And they make us more willing to engage with trust and connect with others.

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