Throughout the summer Olympics going on right now, TV watchers and live audiences are often awestruck and inspired by the level of competition as well as the individual stories of what athletes sacrifice in order to participate in the games.

Even the opening ceremony, put together by Danny Boyle, and featuring Queen Elizabeth as a bond girl, depicted jumping out of a plane to land right in the stadium, resulted in a jaw-dropping reaction.

For me, one of the most inspiring stories involved black US gymnast John Orozco. Simply being African-American in a sport dominated by white athletes in the US, Orozco excelled early, despite being from a poor neighborhood in the Bronx, NY. His father found a flyer advertising free gymnastics lessons for disadvantaged youths, and Orozco carved out a niche for himself early. Though he’s only nineteen, he dominates many meets. It’s always inspiring to see someone overcoming overwhelming odds to rise above what is expected for you in your life.

That’s just one story among many. We as audience members cheer on many individuals who achieve success simply by participating in the games. I myself was awestruck by the 23 year old Irish gymnast Kieran Behan competing yesterday. He had been told, at one point, that he would never walk again, but he refused to bow down to all that held him back, and though he became overwhelmed by emotions as he competed, he had realized a lifelong dream.

I recently read an article claiming that awe-inspiring events which we witness can actually improve our mental health. The newspaper The Independent reported that having an experience of awe also makes us “nicer” people, more patient, and creates a feeling of satisfaction as well as changing people’s perception of time. People in the study, exposed to jaw-dropping experiences, reported that the no longer felt time rushing them along. They felt they had more time available to them.

In this respect, awe had a positive impact on decision-making and sense of well-being. One of the conclusions of the study is that experiences of awe bring people into the present moment, and they were less distracted by stressors.

So the lesson, I suppose, is to feel free to cheer on others and celebrate their accomplishments. It just might improve your life.

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