Background: While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of almost all people
worldwide, many people observed also positive changes in their attitudes and behaviors.
This can be seen in the context of posttraumatic growth. These perceived changes
refer to five main categories: Nature/Silence/Contemplation, Spirituality, Relationships,
Reflection on life, and Digital media usage. A previous study with persons recruited in
June 2020 directly after the lockdown in Germany showed that the best predictors of
these perceived changes related to the Corona pandemic were the ability to mindfully
stop and pause in distinct situations, to be “spellbound at the moment” and to become
“quiet and devout,” indicating moments of wondering awe, with subsequent feelings of
gratitude. Now, we intended to analyze (1) by whom and how strongly awe/gratitude
was experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and (2) how these feelings relate
to perceived changes and experienced burden, and (3) whether or not feelings of
awe/gratitude contribute to participants’ well-being or may buffer perceived burden in
terms of a resilience factor.
Methods: Online survey with standardized questionnaires [i.e., WHO-Five Well-being
Index (WHO5), Life satisfaction (BMLSS), Awe/Gratitude scale (GrAw-7), and Perceived
Changes Questionnaire (PCQ)] among 2,573 participants (68% women; mean age
48.7 ± 14.2 years, 74% with a Christian affiliation) from Germany recruited between
June and November 2020.
Results: Awe/Gratitude scored significantly higher particularly among women (Cohen’s
d = 0.40), older persons (d = 0.88), persons who rely on their faith as a
“stronghold in difficult times” (d = 0.99), those with higher well-being (d = 0.70),
and lower perceptions of loneliness (d = 0.49). With respect to perceived changes
during the pandemic, more intense feelings of Awe/Gratitude were particularly related to Nature/Silence/Contemplation (r = 0.41), Spirituality (r = 0.41), and Relationships
(r = 0.33). Regression analyses revealed that the best predictors of Awe/Gratitude
(R2 = 0.40) were the frequency of meditation, female gender, life satisfaction and
well-being, faith as a stronghold, and perceived burden and also life reflection, while
Nature/Silence/Contemplation and Relationships had a further, but weaker, impact on
Awe/Gratitude as a dependent variable. Awe/Gratitude was moderately associated
with well-being (r = 0.32) and would predict 9% of participants’ well-being variance.
The best predictors of participants’ well-being were multidimensional life satisfaction
and low perceived burden (related to the pandemic), and further Awe/Gratitude and
Nature/Silence/Contemplation; these would explain 47% of variance in well-being
scores. However, Awe/Gratitude cannot be regarded as a buffer of the negative aspects
of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is onlymarginally (though negatively) related to perceived
burden (r = −0.15). Mediation analysis showed that Awe/Gratitude mediates 42% of the
link between well-being as a predictor on Nature/Silence/Contemplation as an outcome
and has a direct effect of � = 0.15 (p < 0.001) and an indirect effect of � = 0.11
(p < 0.001). Further, Awe/Gratitude mediates 38% (p < 0.001) of the link between
Nature/Silence/Contemplation as a predictor on well-being as the outcome; the direct
effect is � = 0.18 (p < 0.001), and the indirect effect is � = 0.11 (p < 0.001).
Conclusions: The general ability to experience Awe/Gratitude particularly during the
COVID-19 pandemic may sensitize to perceive the world around (including nature and
concrete persons) more intensely, probably in terms of, or similar to, posttraumatic
growth. As this awareness toward specific moments and situations that deeply “touch”
a person was higher in persons with more intense meditation or prayer practice, one
may assume that these practices may facilitate these perceptions in terms of a training.
However, the experience of Awe/Gratitude does not necessarily buffer against adverse
events in life and cannot prevent perceived burden due to the corona pandemic,
but it facilitates to, nevertheless, perceive positive aspects of life even within difficult
times. As Awe/Gratitude is further mediating the effects of Nature/Silence/Contemplation
on well-being, intervention programs could help to train these perceptions, as these
self-transcendent feelings are also related to prosocial behaviors with respectful
treatment of others and commitment to persons in needs, and well-being.