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Your Brain Is Underwhelmed—Here’s How To Reinspire It


The best decisions are often those that help others as much as ourselves; success rarely comes through solo efforts performed in a vacuum. But try as we might, altruism isn’t always our first instinct, or the one that ultimately drives our choices.

A major reason why is because our brains need a boost of inspiration in order to push past the quotidian level of thought where most of us remain, cognitively speaking, over the course of a normal workday. In short, we need to experience awe in order to make the most far-reaching, altruistic decisions. Fortunately, there are a few surprisingly simple ways to give your mind that dose of what it needs.


Imagine standing at the edge of a deep canyon, the rocks painted pink and red by the setting sun. The sky seems endless. There’s a giant sequoia tree next to you, towering into the heavens.

That feeling you have of being small, a part of something larger, is awe. And it’s not just something that’s merely nice to experience now and then; it can actually shape the way we make choices. When you have experiences like this, you’re activating the same parts of your brain that deal with moral and selfless decision making, called the anterior cingulate cortex and the insular cortex.

When a mother looks at her newborn child, researchers have found increased activity in both of those brain regions. In another recent study, involving the classic offer to split money with an unknown person, researchers found those who made more altruistic offers showed heightened connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex and insular cortex. Those who made more selfish decisions showed decreased connectivity between the two.

In other words, feeling responsible for another person, and thus connected to the world—with its attendant feelings of wonder and awe—lights up our altruism circuits.

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