To Cultivate Adult SEL, Start Archiving Your Wonder

April 10, 2024
Nya Abernathy
The Dignity Effect
To Cultivate Adult SEL, Start Archiving Your Wonder

I have the wonderful and currently rare privilege of being an adult social-emotional educator. With organizations, small groups, or individuals, I help the grown-ups of the world lean into learning and practicing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that support social and emotional well-being. For busy professionals whose lives are full of responsibilities and relationships, this can prove tricky to prioritize—even when adult SEL (ASEL) is desired. Curating ways for any professional to start their ASEL journey is my jam—and I’m sharing with you where I love to start the process.

If you asked me what my top reads of 2023 were, Dr. Dacher Keltner’s Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it Can Transform Your Life makes the cut, no question. As a professional purveyor of wonder and awe, I devoured the audiobook amidst a very busy day-to-day life.

I’m sure you know about that busy day-to-day living. Many—if not all—of the education professionals I work with do. I recognize that those in education are way too busy for much else besides the pile of things they are being asked to accomplish. Let me take a moment here to honor the load of mental, physical, and emotional work education professionals are expected to do. It is A LOT. Many are doing it without the support they need to prevent burnout. Hats off as you stay in this work and show up day after day. Thank you.

Adding ASEL to this load, though many professionals see it as necessary and even desirable, is not an easy task. Time is not the only factor; capacity is as well.

So how do we engage ASEL among busy and often burnt out professionals? Here’s the shorthand of how I begin supporting folks engaging ASEL, often for the first time: Start with who you are; start where you are; and practice in community.

Oh, and always include awe.

At a recent event, I told the group of professionals I was guiding something about burnout: Burnout is not your fault. The energetic exhale was palpable. We exist in systems built to push us into living like machines instead of as humans. Production is not the purpose of being human; connection is. Interrupting the effects of burnout with ASEL often starts very small (where you are) within your context (who you are) with support and accessible practice (in community).

Given this, I was juiced to get to Keltner’s chapter on “Collective Effervescence” (and yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds). Covering themes of emotional and bodily synchronicities alongside the ROI of wonder, Keltner documents how we—together— elicit awe between us and deepen our empathic connection to one another. I’m convinced that connection, just after rest, equips us to meet our relationships and responsibilities while honoring our humanity (and denying living like machines).

Nya, I don’t have time to try and make more connections or to try new things. I hear you. And I’m not going to tell you to add anything to your list. I’m going to just tell you to start noticing.

In one place, Keltner calls the response to noticing archiving awe, and we started doing it around 100,000 years ago. This came forth in culture markers like language, music, symbols, and more. If you engage language, music, traditions, etc., guess what? You are already archiving awe, documenting wonder.

Here’s the ease of this invitation: Noticing is the beginning of archiving your wonder. It is the simple practice of being aware of yourself (self-awareness), your surroundings, and others around you (social awareness).

What is so wonderful about what Keltner offers around Collective Effervescence is that you don’t necessarily have to do something new to “practice awe.” You can start noticing it happening right where you already are.

Are you a sports fan? Notice the sensations in your body and the emotions you experience watching (and responding to) a game with others.

Are you religious? Notice the rituals or movements you do with your community of faith and notice what meanings they are connected to.

Are you a nature lover? Grab a companion—or four—and go on a walk together. Notice how you feel when your walk syncs up. Notice how it feels to walk out of sync.

Are you (and your students or colleagues) dancers? Take a dance break and move your bodies together. Even if you aren’t doing the same exact movements, moving to the same rhythm brings connection and—bonus—gets feel-good chemicals flowing in your body.

These communal experiences open us up to collaborative engagement, empathic connection, shared realities, and actively being a mutual contributor to the whole. Wonder opens ways you can engage in the intention of ASEL to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

Start with who you are, where you are. Archive the wonder that is already woven into your moments by consciously noting the presence of awe. When we come together, wonder is there, connecting us in ways that support intentional ASEL practices in our vocational and personal efforts. Simply notice and welcome it.

The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.

Nya Abernathy is the founder of The Dignity Effect and a creator, showing up in the world specifically as an adult social-emotional well-being specialist, soul-care sommelier, and purveyor of wonder and awe. Taking her 15+ years of experience in human services at a variety of levels and roles, Nya facilitates, speaks, and coaches with the intention of creating safe space for participants to practice living more whole through learning to be more connected. Her debut book Welcome, Wonder is now available. You can engage more of her work at


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Tyrone Martinez-Black

Such a beautiful idea!

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