Merritt: Still feeling 'awe,' and feeling better because of it

Merritt: Still feeling 'awe,' and feeling better because of it
Columnist Dolly Merritt writes that she has been gazing outside her kitchen window almost every evening to see winter’s beautiful red and orange sunsets as the glorious fading rays sink into the horizon and that she is all the better for it — relaxed, rejuvenated and happy. (Hermine Saunders photo)

Lately, I’ve been stopping to smell the roses. I’m speaking figuratively, of course, since my rose garden is taking its cold weather snooze.

I have, however, been gazing outside my kitchen window almost every evening to see winter’s beautiful red and orange sunsets as the glorious fading rays sink into the horizon. It’s a time when, on occasion, I’m hurried and harried after a busy day (even though retired) as I evade unwanted robotic phone calls that always summon me while I’m cooking.


Nonetheless, I stop chopping carrots for a minute to drink in the magnificence of the moment and I am all the better for it — relaxed, rejuvenated and happy.

Other times, I’ll be in the middle of a household task, when Paul, my husband — who regularly scans the woods behind our home for deer — will motion for me to look out the window. Sometimes, I don’t see them as clearly because of nature’s camouflage. But a flick of a tail and a move of a head alert me to their presence and I don’t move a muscle, afraid of scaring them off.

As always, we are mesmerized and still excited to watch these beautiful creatures that have become so commonplace. As they move out of sight, they leave behind our quiet moment of pause and amazement and we are better for it.

You could say these experiences of wonder are the result of a few cancer diagnoses, between my husband and me, that are good reason to take notice of the life around us. Or perhaps the aging process may encourage us to enjoy things more acutely while we still have time on this earth.

Whatever the reason, it’s a feeling I seem to be experiencing more often.

About a year ago, I read an article about the subject of awe written by Paula Spencer Scott in the October 2016 edition of Parade, the supplement that’s included in the Carroll County Times’ Sunday publication.

According to the piece, researchers are discovering several findings which resulted from a three-year study, entitled Project Awe, that began in 2013. It was led by Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he directs the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab.

For example, scholars believe that gazing at natural wonders such as a sky full of stars or the Grand Canyon can create a sense of togetherness with mankind. The focus shifts from the oneness of ourselves to something greater.

When immersed in wonder, research also indicates that we can look at things in a different way, becoming relaxed and more attentive, thus more open to additional information and details.

Experiencing awe may create happiness and, maybe, even a boost in health and healing. (Listening to the lullaby of crashing waves on a summer night has got to be better than a sleeping pill.) In addition — for those living on poverty-stricken city streets —researchers are wondering if a lack of exposure to nature may result in additional stresses.

Wilderness trips have been documenting nature’s effect on the mind and body and some scholars believe there may be therapeutic benefits — psychologically and socially — other than the obvious physical rewards.

With all that nature has to offer, however, Keltner believes we don’t always need to go to the Grand Canyon to be wonderstruck, because awe can be much more accessible.

Listening to Beethoven; holding a newborn grandchild; watching a parade; singing “How Great Thou Art,” or being at the receiving end of people’s amazing generosity can be unique ways to hold us spellbound.

For younger adults, however, I think those activities may be more easily said than done. Pursuing a career, maintaining a home, and social obligations can fill a calendar quickly. And when faced with responsibilities such as taking care of children, it isn’t likely that a mother may be noticing fall foliage — in the midst of a family hike — while her children are running aimlessly through the woods.


Today’s instantaneous Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts add to life’s constant interruptions, yielding more stress and pressure. How can a person deal with these everyday stresses?

A researcher in the article predicted that one day in the future, doctors’ prescriptions may include outdoor activities such as a visit to a park to lower blood pressure.

Or imagine receiving a written prescription for listening to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” That may be just the remedy to chase away the blues.

Until then, I’ll continue to “smell the roses” at my kitchen window. It works every time.