The first time I heard about the “Overview Effect” was when I interviewed the physicist, former astronaut and current holder of the Chair of Astronautics at the Technical University of Munich, Professor Ulrich Walter.
The overview effect describes the feeling of insight and awareness that astronauts experience when they view the Earth from space.
This perspective makes them perceive the fragility of our planet and the unity of humanity in a whole new way. This effect is credited with having the potential to change our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. Walter told me how absurd the national boundaries on Earth suddenly seemed to him when he first saw our Earth from space. Later I learned that all astronauts experience this profound shift in consciousness during this moment: For beyond earthly borders, astronauts gaze upon the blue sphere illuminated by the sun, with its majestic green valleys, peaks and deserts.
They experience what we all know only in theory – that this is our only home and we have no second Earth.
Every drop of water we drink, every breath we take is a gift from our homeland. We are part of the tightly woven web of life on this planet. The form of our existence is temporary and changeable, but no matter how we appear, we are born from this web of life and will return to it in some way even after we die. For astronauts, it is the bird’s eye view from space that leads to a shift in consciousness – a sudden understanding that all boundaries and strife on earth are absurd because we all have only this one home.
„There are only two ways to live. Either as if nothing were a miracle, or as if everything were a miracle.“ – Albert Einstein
Let’s save the world? Overview for all, a trip into space for everyone!
While numerous states and wealthy individuals are making plans to colonise Mars, I propose a different journey – a journey into the other, our inner universe. Because what astronauts experience during their cosmic journeys has a name: Gratitude!
The shift in consciousness they experience as they view the fragility of our planet from afar is a sense of deep appreciation for life and the beauty of our universe. Instead of escaping to another world, we should embark on a journey to ourselves to find and appreciate this gratitude.
Every disappointment is the result of a false expectation
Even the ancient Stoics taught that we should always prepare for the worst in order to be less disappointed. Our desires and our ego are often the key to our earthly conflicts and unhappiness.
Gratitude was already treated by the ancient philosophers, but only discovered by modern psychology in about 20 years ago.
According to research, people who train their sense of gratitude and the beauty in life are more satisfied, have more fulfilling relationships and suffer less often from depression, addiction or burn-out. Even inflammatory markers in the blood are reduced by gratitude. Researchers suggest that gratitude may even have evolutionary benefits, helping to strengthen social bonds and altruism.
Sharing is the new having
More and more people seem to realise this: Communities and ecosystem-like structures have been gaining in importance for some time – even whole institutions and companies are joining forces these days. I am sure that in order to save our planet, we have to turn away from a culture of “having and wanting” and move towards a culture of sharing.
How do you learn gratitude, how do you learn giving?
Martin Seligman, the pioneer of so-called positive psychology, developed tests and questionnaires to measure positive personality traits and researched the development of these traits throughout life. Gratitude is one of the five virtues of “transcendence” that are promoted in positive psychology happiness training. Here, the term transcendence means growing beyond oneself and connecting to something greater. It is about finding the meaning and purpose of one’s life by overcoming one’s limitations and striving for higher goals.
This can be achieved in various ways, such as through spirituality, art, science or even altruistic actions.
By moving beyond the self, one can gain a deeper understanding of oneself and the world around us. Although there are still sceptics, positive psychology is now seen by many as a useful complement to clinical psychology.
Studies have shown that gratitude exercises can have a positive effect on life. In a study by Seligman, students were divided into three groups to study the effect of gratitude. The first group was asked to write down five things they were grateful for once a week for ten weeks. The second group wrote down things that annoyed them and the third group simply wrote down events that had affected them in some way. The participants in the gratitude group ended up being more satisfied with their lives, more optimistic about the future and had fewer physical complaints. Interestingly, they also did more sports than the other groups.
An app for gratitude
Another study conducted at the University of Lüneburg by examined the effectiveness of a gratitude app for people with mental health problems. Over a period of five weeks, the participants were encouraged to consciously notice positive experiences and to thank friends and family.
The results showed that the regular practice of gratitude led to a significant improvement in the participants’ psychological well-being. This study highlights the effectiveness of gratitude practices as a complementary measure to improve mental health.
Given the challenges facing our world today, it might be tempting to fall into fear and despair. But the answer may lie in all of us focusing on what we can do to make our world a better place. By focusing on gratitude and changing our behaviour, we can honour our planet and begin a bright future. My suggestion is that we all want to give a little more than we take and practice gratitude. If we do this, together we can make a positive change in our world and create a better future for all of us.
Thank you for reading my text. I am glad that you exist! If you want to read more from me, you can follow me on LinkedIn. Best regards, your Susanne