Awe and Wonder

You have seen wonder – you see it in your child. That moment their eyes get wide when they see something they’ve never seen before, the time they hear something new and ask “What’s that noise?” The time they point and whisper, “WOW.”

Several years ago, I was walking into our church on a week day morning. We have a preschool that meets in the building and so there are always children and parents coming in and out, but this was no ordinary preschool day. This was the first day of preschool for the year. In front of me was a little boy who was coming to preschool for the very first time. He had a backpack and was carrying a lunch box and holding his mom’s hand. Then he saw the corner of the playground. The playground is enclosed by concrete columns every 6 feet or so with tall fencing in between. This boy stopped at the first pillar and said, “Wow, mom. I hope I get to play on those swings!” Then he skipped to the next pillar and jumped around to see what was beyond it. He squealed and said, “Oh mom. I hope I get to play in that playhouse.” He tiptoed to the next pillar, peeked around it and just whispered, ‘Oh mom. It’s awesome.” Once we got in the building, he hopped down the ramp to his hallway – painted in bright, playful colors. He put his arms out to his side and said, “Stop. Let’s just look at it.”

Our children are naturally awestruck by things because there are so many new things being introduced every day. But as adults, we often have to look for the wonder-filled moments.

I was studying up on wonder and awe a little bit – which sounds strange, I know. But I found an interesting article by some researchers in California.

First, they said: “People increasingly report feeling time-starved, which exacts a toll on health and well-being.”  Would you agree? Would you define your life as time-starved sometimes?

They found participants in the study who consistently had moments of awe felt “they had more time available, were less impatient, were more willing to volunteer their time to help others and more strongly preferred experiences over material goods.”

As they were studying awe, they found it hard to generalize what causes awe, but they did narrow it down to four categories:

  1. Travel (new places)
  2. Staring at the cosmos
  3. Sensational film (This is different for everyone, but it’s about immersing yourself in another’s experiences.)
  4. Things in massive quantities (like a field of tulips, a school of fish, or a mass people).  

This is how they wrapped up their study:

People mostly walk around with a sense of knowing what is going on in the world. They have hypotheses about the way people behave and what might happen. We are always walking around trying to confirm the things we already think. When you are in a state of awe, it puts you off balance and, therefore, you become ready to learn new things

As adults, we think off-balance is always bad.  Because of that, we often chose to live in the mundane. Because of that, sometimes we just plain miss the wonder of it all. Small doses of awe in the everyday boosts life satisfaction. It helps us focus us on our present moment.

So how do we try not to miss the wonder in our every day?

This is what we can learn from the sweet little boy on his way to preschool:

  • We should always anticipate what is around the corner. And I mean “anticipate” in the excited, just can’t way to see it kind of way.
  • Take a minute to absorb what is right in front of you before you head to the next corner.
  • Do new things every now and then that just make you want to whisper, “Wow.” Set aside what you think you know so you can experience something new.  Allow yourself to be curious. As we get older, we tend to learn with purpose rather than just learn for fun or wonder.
  • Lastly, this boy’s mom was amazing. She didn’t rush him. She just walked with him and agreed. “That would be so fun. I hope so too!”  “If not today, then maybe another day!”

Start to face everyday life with wonder – What don’t I know? What can I learn? What can I see? Allow a little bit of un-balance in your day.

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