The entire world is out to steal your wonder. I think it is because to experience wonder is to participate in hope, faith, and a love of the unquantifiable. The world likes everything nailed down, stretched out on an index card and pinned, kept under a glass case. I read recently that physicists and mathematicians were more likely to believe in God than others in the hard sciences. Physicists and mathematicians, I suppose, spend their days contemplating the incomprehensible, yet intricately designed universe.
This particular study went on to say that medical doctors, too, were more likely to believe in miracles than other scientists, partly because many times healing is mysterious. Acknowledging the unknown is a prerequisite for awe, I believe.
A number of studies have come out recently extolling the effects of awe on humans. Together they make up a very compelling case for seeking out the wonder in your everyday life. I have included the studies at the end of this post, but here is why peeling off the cynical veneer and letting your spirit venture out is so important:
- Awe dislodges you from the center of the universe. Narcissism is actually the shrinking of a personality so that their small life becomes their whole world. Get glimpses of nature or have a spiritually uplifting experience and suddenly your place in this cosmos looks much smaller. I don’t mean that we are insignificant, but merely that we partake in realities in which we are only a part of a much larger design.
- Wonder makes you more altruistic. If you take into yourself the wide spaces of this universe, then your participation is more likely to include others. Simply put, If you retain a sense of astonishment at the miracle of existence, you are more likely to value the presence of others. If your mere life is a source of marvel, you are more likely to honor the phenomenon of that life in other people.
- Awe makes you healthy. Not only have studies shown that a sense of wonder lessens your stress, the emotional wellbeing it causes creates all sorts of healthy connections in your body. Stress kills, as we all know. Participating in regular amazement reduces stress hormones and reinforces beneficial neural pathways.
- Wonder is a great teacher. Astonishment at the vast array of miracles the universe offers encourages children to become learners, rather than regurgitators. Awe inspires curiosity, a trait that is necessary to not only learning but learning how to learn. Reducing everything to facts and figures drains the joy out of learning. Education takes effort but if it is a joyous effort, then a lifetime of reward begins. Take away the joy, and the mind literally closes up shop. Opinions are firmly held in the face of disproof.
I recently read a business consultant’s take on a sense of awe. He talked about a common event in the workplace. We all want to feel needed and irreplaceable, but sometimes people become very manipulative in order to convince everyone that the company will fall apart if they weren’t there. These people place a premium on being considered matchless among employees. But here is the truth. This is just a form of narcissism.
He went on to say that those people who place all their value on being needed have no sense of awe. That every time this person is removed, the company grows. Why? Because their lack of wonder creates a ceiling on the possible success of the company. It takes being able to believe in big things to grow an enterprise.
So how to recapture a sense of awe? Jesus said that unless we come to Him as a child, we can’t come to Him at all. That seems a bit harsh, especially when modern Christianity places such emphasis on spiritual power, not realizing that spiritual power comes from surrender, not control.
I think that a few universals exist when it comes to experiencing amazement. Cultivating it may take some time if you are a Debbie Downer, but one of the best things about awe is that people like you more. Instead of your negativity surrounding you like a sub-photon shield (whatever that is), people are invited into shared experiences. Here are a few suggestions of things that regularly inspire most humans:
- The majesty of mountains and the unknowable ocean, or the specificity of flowers and their reliance on insects for pollination regularly thrill me. If you can’t get out of the city, visit the botanical gardens or watch nature programs. The wild nature of creation gets me out of myself every time. In fact, the Japanese regularly practice ‘tree bathing’. Walking in parks makes us happy.
- I tend to avoid art that is exploring the nature of ugliness. I understand and appreciate the truth of pain, however, I get so much more of a thrill out of glory of any kind. Whether a symphony, an incredible movie, or a painting that sends chills down my spine, beauty is inspiring.
- Literature, particularly the Bible. For the uninitiated, the Bible can seem impenetrable. But I have gotten more comfort and inspiration out of that book than any other. And I love to read. A story written so well I forget I’m reading is pure joy.
- My kids. Watching them grow into people I really like and admire as well as love is a constant source of wonder. And my husband, too, is just a wonder-ful person. I can’t imagine doing life without him.
- Everyone has their own unique relationship with God. For me, in my worst moments, the fact of Him, the holiness and eternal nature of Him grounds me in wonder. I can be overwhelmed by the details of my tumultuous life one minute, and lost in the wonder of Him, the next. I highly recommend a relationship with Him.
One last observation. The blogs are clogged with gratitude posts right now. I even did one. But wonder kicks up your capacity for gratitude tremendously. Our attempts at thanksgiving can be so mild. We take a moment to be pleased with our lives and pat ourselves on the back for our attitude of gratitude. I want to be like David dancing on the way to Jerusalem, expressing wonder through every cell of his body. Wonder abandons pride and participates in the splendor set before us.
Some books to help get you wondering:
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