Awe and Gratitude Help Cope with a Pandemic

May 19, 2021

A new study shows during the covid pandemic many people observed positive changes in their attitudes and behaviors, indicating moments of awe, with consequent feelings of gratitude.

A new study by a group of German researchers, psychologists, and theologians found that during the covid pandemic many people observed positive changes in their attitudes and behaviors, such as the ability to consciously stop and live in the present moment, and to become quiet and devout, indicating moments of awe, with consequent feelings of gratitude.

The results of the study – titled, “Awe/Gratitude as an Experiential Aspect of Spirituality and Its Association to Perceived Positive Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic” – reveal that Awe/Gratitude scored significantly higher particularly among women, older persons, and persons who rely on their faith as a “stronghold in difficult times”.

Researchers write: “The results show that the practice of meditation and praying is related to Awe/Gratitude and (in terms of training) may sensitize to be more aware of the underlying moments and situations that cause feelings of wondering awe, and thus, it was of interest whether well-being could moderate these pathways. We found that the effect of both spiritual practices (meditation and praying), when moderated by a person’s well-being, increases the levels of Awe/Gratitude more than if they were evaluated separately”.

They analyzed “(1) by whom and how strongly awe/gratitude was experienced during the covid-19 pandemic, and (2) how these feelings relate to perceived changes and experienced burden, and (3) whether or not feelings of awe/gratitude contribute to participants’ well-being or may buffer perceived burden in terms of a resilience factor.”

Authors write: “Referring to our research questions, first, we can state that particularly women, older persons, and religious/spiritual persons perceived Awe/Gratitude more often (and intensely); this is also true for those with higher well-being and lower perceptions of loneliness. It seems that both, low scores of well-being and feelings of loneliness may distract a person’s awareness for the Sacred and the “beauty” in life. In this study, well-being was particularly related to feelings of gratefulness and to the experience and value of beauty, to stopping in awe and then thinking “of so many things for which I am really grateful”.

“With respect to perceived changes during the pandemic as second focus, more intense feelings of Awe/Gratitude were particularly related to Nature/Silence/Contemplation, Spirituality and Relationships. This means that the general ability to experience Awe/Gratitude particularly during the corona pandemic may sensitize to perceive the world around (including nature and concrete persons) more intensely. … The best predictors of Awe/Gratitude were the frequency of meditation (which may indicate that the awareness can be trained), female gender (women are usually more aware of their emotions and more sensitive toward spiritual issues), life satisfaction, and well-being (which may indicate that positive emotional states may facilitate awareness), faith as a stronghold (which may imply that whatever may come, one has unconditional trust in God or another source of hope).”

“The third research question was whether or not feelings of awe and subsequent gratitude contribute to participants’ well-being, as awe was suggested to increase well-being and personal change, and to be related to openness and extroversion as a personality structure. In our study, Awe/Gratitude was indeed moderately associated with well-being. … It cannot be called a buffering resilience factor, but rather an ability to perceive the positive aspects in life – in spite of the stressors. Actually, this could be considered an interesting process of inner development similar or closely related to the concept of mindfulness: being aware of the situation as it is, and deal with the situation as it is without judgment, as judgmental processes would result in negative emotions.”

Authors conclude: “Perceptions of Awe and subsequent Gratitude are higher in persons with a religious background, and in those with more intense meditation or prayer practice. Such spiritual practices may facilitate these perceptions in terms of “training” and attitude. However, these experiences of Awe and Gratitude do not usually buffer against adverse events in life and cannot prevent perceived burden due to the pandemic; rather, they facilitate to, nevertheless, perceive the positive aspects of life, particularly Nature/Silence/Contemplation, Spirituality, and Relationships. This indicates higher awareness of a connectedness with the world around and with others (horizontal direction of relations) and with the Sacred (vertical direction of relations).”

“As Awe/Gratitude is further mediating the effects of Nature/Silence/Contemplation on well-being, intervention programs to train these perceptions could be considered in order to support people particularly in the time of the covid-19 pandemic, as these self-transcendent feelings are also related to prosocial behaviors with respectful treatment of others and commitment to persons in need.”

Full Study “Awe/Gratitude as an Experiential Aspect of Spirituality and Its Association to Perceived Positive Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic”