A key part of an enriched life is to allow yourself to regularly experience a sense of awe and wonder. Life without wonder is stale and mundane – a formula for restlessness, anxiety and outright depression.
“Wonder is the first of all the passions.” – Rene Descartes
What does “awe” and “wonder” mean exactly? Various definitions, Wikipedia entries and online articles define these concepts in a very sterile manner. A lot of these like to split hairs about differences between the two concepts. I’m less concerned with this type of definitional nitpicking and more interested in how they can inspire, provide joy and satiate the soul.
So what is it? From my perspective, I see two essential elements that drive awe and wonder:
- Any element of nature, art, music, literature, science/technology or the spiritual/religious far enough outside our habitual familiarity (normality) that can cause us to be suddenly amazed, blown away, inspired, excited, astonished, reverent, emotional and appreciating. The things that come to mind include grand & gorgeous vistas, mountains, waterfalls, starry skies, the immense universe, a magnificent storm, an extraordinary piece of art, marvelous music, etc. It can even include a reaction of amazement, satisfaction and admiration noticing something simple such as a blooming flower or a spider and its intricate web – things that normally escape our notice but brings us back to a child-like appreciation and wonder.
- One element that I feel is sadly overlooked in most people’s minds when considering awe and wonder is something for which I can attest provides immense joy & satisfaction – knowledge discovery. Knowledge Adventurers have a definite opportunity to experience awe and wonder while uncovering heretofore unknown extraordinary facts and incredible truths (unknown, at least to ourselves and most culturally indoctrinated people).
We should love and embrace dazzling beauty. . . . aesthetics & literature . . . . human achievement . . . . a beautiful puzzling mystery . . . . as well as elegant thought. Open our minds to experiencing new things . . . . elicit curiosity . . . . engage and enliven our senses . . . . allow ourselves to be inspired and uplifted . . . . to pause in life for contemplation of nature and reality . . . . feeling the joy in simple pleasures . . . . embracing a heightened state of consciousness . . . .
This infusion of joy and satisfaction doesn’t come without some effort on our part. We must be open to such experiences. Spending our entire lives inside the office or sitting on the couch watching television will not produce awe and wonder. Never questioning anything will not produce awe and wonder. Never venturing beyond your normalcy and comfort zone will not produce awe and wonder.
We need to make it a point to get out in nature and truly appreciate its beauty and wonder. Get out . . . . pause . . . . release your tension . . . . observe and notice the simple as well as the grand . . . . look at things in a new way . . . . don’t take anything for granted . . . . ask questions about what you see . . . look for new answers to old questions . . . . soak it up . . . . be curious . . . . be humble . . . . open your heart . . . . be like a child.
“The child is father of the man.” – William Wordsworth
We wonder and awe constantly as a child. Unfortunately we go to school to have the world’s answers pounded into our head – whether truly accurate or not. The mystery is removed. Our curiosity is banished. We enter adulthood and become suffocated by work, bills, consumerism, television, and any number of things that encompass the truly mundane. The comfort of our confirmation bias takes over and we don’t want anything to change or our indoctrinated beliefs to be challenged.
We come to accept:
– Conform, don’t question what’s assumed to be true
– Be complacent & acquiesce, don’t challenge the status quo
– Go along, don’t rock the boat
– Blend in, don’t stand out of the herd
– Settle for the mundane, don’t be inspired
– Ignore your boring sterile environs, continue to separate yourself from natural beauty
– Embrace the ugly and mundane
– Expect nothing and wish for less
Is this the life you desire? I think not.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed.”
– Albert Einstein
“Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.”
– Abraham Joshua Heschel
A couple of good online articles:
- Why Wonder and Awe May Be The Cure For Worry, Fear and Narcissism by Kathy Gottberg (it even addresses knowledge discovery that I too also find critical!)
- The Importance of Wonder and Awe – Part I by Granville Angell (Part I, II & III)