Happiness is an ephemeral feeling, so it’s hard to get a handle on it. To harness a massive and abstract state of mind seems like an impossible mission from the out.
A new article from Business Insider suggests we’re better off honing little daily habits that have been proven to boost our mood, and stimulate the brain area associated with this shift.
One of the methods they suggest that we particularly like the sound of is reading adventure stories.
A 2012 study from the University of Minnesota found that the feeling of awe triggers less stress, less impatience and greater life satisfaction among those who experience it.
Awe “brings people into the present moment, and being in the present moment underlies awe’s capacity to adjust time perception, influence decisions, and make life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise,” the researchers claimed.
In one of the experiments, this feeling of awe was conjured up by getting participants to read a short, wonder-inspiring narrative.
Volunteers in the test group read a story about “ascending the Eiffel Tower and seeing Paris from on high”. Those in the neutral group “read about ascending an unnamed tower and seeing a plain landscape from on high”.
“Eliciting a feeling of awe, compared with a neutral state, increased perceived time availability, which in turn led participants to more strongly prefer experiential goods over material ones and to view their lives as more satisfying,” the academics concluded.
This ties in neatly with research that has found that experience, rather than things, brings us happiness – because the associated memories last us a life-time, as opposed to the quick-fading novelty of a brand new purchase.
The concept of awe is also explored in a 2015 paper by researchers from the University of California.
“Our investigation indicates that awe, although often fleeting and hard to describe, serves a vital social function,” they said.
The psychologists noted that the experience of awe distracts people from focusing on themselves: “When experiencing awe, you may not, egocentrically speaking, feel like you're at the centre of the world anymore”.
And by doing this, it helps us to focus on helping others: “By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others.”
All of which weighs very heavily in awe’s favour when it comes to manifesting happiness.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up five awe-inspiring real life tales of adventure for your very own fiction lift:
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State and she would do it alone. Adapted into a film starring Reese Witherspoon (above).
When I Fell From The Sky: The True Story of One Woman's Miraculous Survival by Juliane Koepcke
On December 24th 1971, the teenage Juliane boarded the packed flight in Peru to meet her father for Christmas. She and her mother fought to get some of the last seats available and felt thankful to have made the flight. The LANSA airplane flew into a heavy thunderstorm and went down in dense Amazon jungle hundreds of miles from civilization.
She fell two miles from the sky, still strapped to her plane seat, into the jungle. She was the sole survivor among the 92 passengers, which included her mother, and Juliane’s unexplainable survival has been called a modern-day miracle.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air is the true story of a 24-hour period on Everest, when members of three separate expeditions were caught in a storm and faced a battle against hurricane-force winds, exposure, and the effects of altitude, which ended the worst single-season death toll in the peak's history.
Small Wars Permitting: Dispatches from Foreign Lands by Christina Lamb
Since leaving England aged 21 with an invitation to a Karachi wedding and a yearning for adventure, Christina Lamb has spent 20 years living out of suitcases, reporting from around the world and becoming one of Britain’s most highly regarded journalists.
Small Wars Permitting is a collection of her best reportage, following the principal events of the last two decades everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. But Lamb’s main interest has always been in the untold stories, the people and places others don’t visit. Undaunted by danger, disease or despots, she has travelled by canoe through the Amazon rainforest in search of un-contacted Indians, joined a Rio samba school to infiltrate crime rackets behind Carnival and survived a terrifying ambush by Taliban.
Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton
Celebrated for her courageous exploits as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman has entered history as one of nineteenth-century America's most enduring and important figures. But just who was this remarkable woman? To John Brown, leader of the Harpers Ferry slave uprising, she was General Tubman.
For the many slaves she led north to freedom, she was Moses. To the slaveholders who sought her capture, she was a thief and a trickster. To abolitionists, she was a prophet. Now, in a biography widely praised for its impeccable research and its compelling narrative, Harriet Tubman is revealed for the first time as a singular and complex character, a woman who defied simple categorization.