Photo by Shirin Saleki / Unsplash

One of my favorite feelings on the planet is the feeling when I look up at the night sky for a few minutes. I don't mean looking up at a National Geographic-esque blanket of stars in some remote area, but looking up at whatever combination of moon, stars, clouds, and dark blue night sky happens to be above me when I roll the garbage can out to the curb.

There's something about looking up at that sky, knowing how many people before me have looked up at that same sky and how many people will look up at it after me, that makes everything else melt away. That sky has seen millennia of the endless march of humanity, and it will look down on whatever and whoever comes after me.

That sky doesn't care about politics, TikTok, quiet quitting, tax rates, Karens, Elons, to-do lists, sports, or anything else that feels important today.

The best word for this feeling when I look at the night sky (or waves rolling in on a beach or a big thunderstorm building on the horizon) is awe. Awe is this strange combination of wonder, respect, vastness, and transcendence, maybe with a sprinkle of fear and powerlessness. It is a uniquely human feeling that, when we allow ourselves to feel it, tends to slow everything down and widen our perspective.

Tim Urban of Wait But Why has talked about Die Progress Units (DPUs), which are amounts of time someone from history would need to be transported into the future to die from shock at how different the world is. Someone transported from 10,000 BC to 5,000 BC likely wouldn't be too impressed. Someone from, say, 1950 transported to today would probably die from how different the world. As Tim says, "This experience for him wouldn't be surprising or shocking or even mind-blowing – those words aren't big enough. He might actually die."

I remember standing in church sometime in the late 90s when I overheard my dad talking to a family friend about buying a new computer. I excitedly asked, "Does it have a CD-ROM??"

I remember the dialing sound from a dial-up modem, my mom carrying around one of the very early Motorola flip phones, "Be Kind, Rewind" stickers on Blockbuster rentals, using a TV Guide to find shows to watch, sitting in the rear-facing death seats in the family station wagon, and scheduling meet-ups with friends without having cell phones.

We now have 5G, FaceTime, social media, streaming everything, internet-connected refrigerators, e-books, ChatGPT, location-based ads, mRNA vaccines, one-day delivery, Siri, and we've gotten rid of the rear-facing death seats (though station wagons are still awesome.)

In our lives, we may experience things like self-driving cars, incredible advances in medicine, and humans becoming subservient to our AI overlords (kidding. I hope.)

We're numb to progress, and it's this numbness that prevents us from experiencing awe. Louis CK said it better than me, regarding people complaining about flights: "You're sitting in a chair... IN THE SKY."

The more we allow ourselves to be awed, taking the time to be present and appreciate all of the wonder, vastness, and transcendence in the world around us, the more grounded and grateful we can be every day. Not just because of AI or airplanes or refrigerators that (creepily) know when we need more eggs, but things like Advil, toilets, and sunglasses, whose existence might awe our ancestors to death.

Even a simple glass of tap water. We have a hundred La Croix flavors, yet most of human history would be awed that we have drinkable tap water. "You have perfectly clean water... COMING FROM THE WALL??"

So next time you look up at the night sky, remember that our daily grind is meaningless to the long arc of history. All that matters is what's right here, right now, today. So pour yourself a clean glass of tap water, and cheers to the power of awe.