Do you remember the feelings you had when you faced amazing landscapes like the Grand Canyon?
I was stunned when I first walked up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The enormous beauty and immense scale struck me like a thunder. I was completely overwhelmed by the unbelievable wonder of nature. Awe was the only thing I could feel in my heart.
That was surely an unforgettable experience. But not unmatched.
Barbara Fredrickson, the leading researcher on positive emotions, writes in her book Positivity that “awe happens when you come across goodness on a grand scale. You literally feel overwhelmed by greatness.” Almost like summarizing up my experience, she pointed out, “Sometimes we’re awed by nature, as with stunning sunsets at the Grand Canyon……Other times we’re awed by humanity as when we see Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon.”
Indeed, awe arises no matter whether we are witnessing the wonders of nature or the wonders of humanity.Exploring People-scapes
By no means is awe the only positive emotion that can be inspired by both nature and humanity. On the contrary, every positive emotion that we get from the nature can be garnered from humanity. You probably feel the same serenity when you are walking in Yosemite and talking to someone you love, the same joy when you see flowers blossom on cherry trees and the children playing under the trees, the same inspiration when you look up at the night stars and you read a biography of Martin Luther King Jr., the same hope when the first green appears in the early spring and your children start walking by themselves.
I enjoy traveling and seeing beautiful landscapes. I have harvested lots of positive emotions from these experiences. Recently, I developed a new hobby of harvesting positive emotions from people. I call it exploring people-scapes.
Appreciating the Ordinary as well as the Grand
But more importantly and more frequently, I derive positive emotions from people around me in my daily life. The Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls are great, but we don’t live there, so we learn to find beauties in the ordinary world surrounding us. Similarly we can learn to find beauty in the ordinary people around us.
Character strength is the Key
Whenever I derive a positive emotion from people, I find character strengths behind it. Kindness brings gratitude, social intelligence brings love, integrity brings inspiration, humor brings amusement, and virtually any strength in grand scale brings awe. Peterson and Seligman define one of the criteria of a character strength to be the existence of prodigies. It’s easy to find people who possess some strengths to an extraordinary degree, like judgment in Captain Sullenberger and bravery in Wesley Autrey, called the Subway Superman. These are obvious people-scapes of character strengths.Ordinary people in our daily lives have strong character strengths too. They may not be as impressive as those of the prodigies, but they are often grander than you thought. Just as beauty can be in the eyes of beholder, strength can be in the eyes of the appreciator.
Then there’s no surprise that Chris Peterson, the leading researcher in character strengths, said in a blog about his trip to China this summer that “although I enjoyed very much my sightseeing and my meals, the highlights of my trip all involved my experiences with people.” He talked much more about the people he met than the famous wonders of China such as the Terra Cotta Warriors. And the subtitle of his blog? “Experience another part of the world, especially the people there”!
That’s the reward of exploring people-scapes. The character strengths of the people around you can fill your life with positive emotions and make it more worth living!
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Peterson, C. (2010). Positive Psychology and China. Psychology Today Blogs. .
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Colorado River in Marble Canyon courrtesy of Joshua M
Capt. Chesley B “Sully” Sullenberger honored at the Rose Parade courtesy of prayitno
Positive Emotions from people courtesy of Wonderland
Running Together courtesy of Mike Baird
Chinese New Year courtesy of Brian Yap