The older you get and the more experiences you have, the easier it is to become jaded. However, a sense of wonder at the marvels of the world help to motivate us, and drive us to learn and appreciate life more.
Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘How can we maintain wonder?’ We also discuss another question as well, ‘How do you think others see you?’
So how to resist that creeping sense of boredom or frustration? How can we maintain wonder?
Related questions: What are the pros and cons of experience? What can be learned from children? How do we learn?
7 thoughts on “How Can We Maintain Wonder?”
I just had a discussion with a friend last night and she touched upon this subject. I asked her how her child has changed her, and she reflected that he had made her experience things through his eyes. While she didn’t use these words, she said that she experienced the wonder of things all over again, such as the first time her son walked barefoot on grass. How cool is that? How can we bring this kind of wonder and joy into our lives every day (with or without kids)?
There is a significant sense in which wonder does — and should — have a child-like quality to it, and ought to be cultivated throughout life. If we are fortunate, we might have one or two such types in our lives (or you are one yourself), and they bring tremendous joy and vivacity to all that we do.
Children ask the foundational questions that life dampens our enthusiasm and interest in pursuing, and this is a small tragedy. For those questions and aporias were our consciousness’s first steps, and what is more crucial than beginnings? The child wants to *know* — and why? (Perhaps because a small mistake in the beginning can lead to massive ones in the end?) Forgetting where we began, in wonder and amazement, seems a terrible waste of a gift, both to an individual and also to those whom they might later inspire with their mind and spirit.
The fluidity of experience, and how it all “hangs together,” so to speak, should indeed inspire an ongoing sense of wonder throughout our lives. That the world presents itself to us as a coherent whole, that there is certainty, predictability (but also dissolution, doubt, fracture, unreliability), all lends great meaning to existence, should you desire to find it. We have a brief window upon it. Why waste it?
As Aristotle writes in his Metaphysics: “Through wonder men began to philosophize, both now and in the beginning.” This is what impels us to gaze upon the heavens, to dream, to create worlds in our own minds, to tell stories, to recall memories — without wonder, what would we be? We desire, above all, to know. We are curious.
As Reynolds Price put it: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo Sapiens — second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives…”
It might be argued that stories arise from our sense of wonder — why something is, or why it is not, what gave rise to it, why it is valuable, why it is not. See the world anew each morning — that you are in it. That in itself is a remarkable story. One exercise practiced by the French philosopher Simone Weil was to meditate upon an object and ask: “What is it?” while casting aside all preconceptions of its relationship to other things, as well as mental and physical associations she might have had upon a first glimpse. Abstracting from “what a thing is for” or “what purpose does this have for human” to ask “what *is* it, what makes it the thing it is?” opens up a land of wonder as you wrestle with the old questions of being, why there is something rather than nothing, and how (or if) you can ever truly say you know it.
I would recommend: tell your own story. There are more people who will marvel and wonder at your gifts than you know.
There are a couple of things we can do to maintain a sense of wonder.
First, look closer. Really examine that leaf, insect, edible plant or flower. Turn it to see it from different angles. If possible, purchase a jewelers loupe to view the intricate designs of nature really closely.
Second, involve your other senses.
What does it feel like? Does it have a scent or make a sound? How does it taste? [Though from experience, I wouldn’t recommend bug tasting 😝].
How does the way something is designed benefit it in it’s environment? Would the area it is in suffer from its absence, or thrive? How does it affect me personally?
This is a beautiful response, Cecily. We breeze through life and by our surroundings so quickly (or so focused on our smart phones) to appreciate the intricacies of our environments. Thanks for this call to slow down and truly sense our world.
I think we can help maintain wonder in our lives by fostering a healthy sense of empathy.
One of the advantages of having children is that they allow their parents to see the world anew. The parents are able to reconnect with the world as if they were seeing it for the first time, as the child is doing.
Being able to see things from another’s point of view — that’s what empathy is. It’s just that most people don’t get to experience empathy so closely, or so powerfully, as when they can imagine an experience from the eyes of their offspring. Fostering that ability in ourselves in other instances can help maintain wonder, I think.
Try to imagine, for example, what life must have been like to the average person living in, say, the middle ages, before the majority of discoveries about our world occurred; before technology gave us the ability to meet people across the world; before we could live longer, and better; before we could see the entire world as a single entity with a multitude of interconnecting parts that all depend on each other.
This ability of putting yourself in another’s shoes, someone who doesn’t have what you have or hasn’t experienced what you have experienced, can help you to appreciate those things and experiences that you do have.
I love this question! Maybe it’s because it makes me think how I feel when I gaze up at the stars on a clear night. The closer you look, the more you see! All of a sudden, I feel very small – like a speck of sand on a beach. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done it – stargaze, and I can’t wait to do it again!
I remember reading about how the light pollution in our cities is keeping us from seeing the stars. This is causing us to lose perspective, and our sense of awe and wonder. …I’d like to say more, but that’s enough for now. I hope to learn more about the universe beyond our solar system and galaxy. Since I studied the solar system in school, so much as been discovered it’s mind-boggling! Lot’s to think about, and wonder.
After I wrote the above, I read the following reflection entitled “Star Power”:
“What is there about shining stars that stirs the human heart? When I was a child, these sparkling pieces of the universe enthralled me with their mysterious presence. The artificial lights of the nearest town were far away from our farm, so the stars shimmered brilliantly in the night sky. I felt awe and a kind of mysterious union with them, as if the stars were somehow beckoning me. The prophet Daniel must have had a similar appreciation for stars because he used them as a metaphor to laud men and women who speak and act for justice. Like the stars, these courageous persons pierce the darkness, summoning us to join them in working to change systems that press upon those who are impoverished and disadvantaged. Imagine the light we could bring to dispel the darkness of our world if we joined them.” – Sr. Joyce Rupp in Living Faith, November 18, 2018.