Dr. Dacher Keltner, psychologist at U. C. Berkeley, believes that cultivating “awe” and “wonder” can help you be healthier and happier. That’s the premise of his book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.

That got me to thinking about the role of awe and wonder in the life of children. They come into the world full of awe, of course. Every two-year-old will stop to examine an ordinary pebble as if it’s a diamond. The whole world is brand new to them.

And there are many ways to keep awe and wonder alive in kids: gazing at stars with them, watching films about the miraculous migration of birds, reading novels like Ender’s Game or A Wrinkle In Time.

But what do awe and wonder actually do for kids as they grow? Kelter believes that there are many benefits. I’ll mention a couple.

  • Awe is a salve for the turbulent mind; it quiets negative self-talk.

 At a certain age, kids can begin to have a critical voice in their heads that says, “You’re not smart enough, not good enough, or not pretty enough.” Cultivating experiences of awe can help balance this by quieting the inner critic for a while.

This is especially important in the age of social media, says Kelter. “We are at this cultural moment of narcissism and self-shame and criticism and entitlement; awe gets us out of that.” It gets kids out of their own heads to see their place in a larger context.

  • Awe is a stimulus to the love of learning.

Distraction is an enemy of awe, says Sharon Salzberg, a leading mindfulness teacher and author. And there is so much distraction today! If kids are too distracted, they may not learn how to pay attention…or how to love learning.

But awe feeds on interest and curiosity, and curiosity fuels the love of learning, Salzburg says. Kelter adds that awe helps cultivate a greater “openness to experience,” an openness to learning new things. Cultivating awe helps kids be more engaged.

But there’s one more benefit of awe and wonder I want to mention.

In Thornton Wilder’s wonderful play, Our Town, the character named Emily, dies in childbirth. After her death, her spirit is allowed to go back in time and visit one day in her past life; her twelfth birthday. And what an experience she has!

Coming into the town of her youth, she says, “There’s Main Street…why, that’s Morgan’s drug store…oh, I just can’t look at everything hard enough!”

Helping kids cultivate the spirit of awe and wonder—even in the everyday—helps them “look harder” at this miracle called life. And that’s an awesome thing to learn.