The power of wonder: to increase happiness and feel alive

I wonder when was the last time you have experienced being in awe, being moved by something so magnificent that you were left breathless, that you felt happy just to be alive so that you could experience that one single small moment.
For me, it is often the movement of the wind ruffling the leaves of trees, watching birds fly and play, the clouds drift, thinking how big the universe is and how small I am, how beauty surrounds me wherever I am, revealing itself to me if only I pay attention.

There has been a lot of research and articles lately on the power of gratitude to increase happiness. A variety of methods are used to practice gratitude everyday such as visualisation, journaling and communicating it with others.

Gratitude is great and I definitely believe that it makes a difference in enjoyment of life. I also believe that there are other techniques and mind frames that are underutilized in order to boost moral and enjoyment of life.

In this article I want to talk about the power of wonder and awe in order to feel happier and enriched in everyday life. Just as practicing gratitude, I believe practicing awe can have as strong an impact in improving people’s lives.

Remember when you were a kid and everything seemed amazing and exiting, the world was a playground, mysterious, enticing and scary all at once, a field of possibilities. I believe that’s the power of wonder, to spark the life inside of us, keeping us our toes, staying open to be moved by the unexpected.

What are wonder and awe?

“Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. Early in human history, awe was reserved for feelings toward divine beings.” or “Awe is a feeling of great respect, sometime mixed with fear or surprise.”

Wonder is similar a similar feeling to awe, but differentiate in that it doesn’t necessarily makes us feel small and or scared. Wonder is “a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.”

I find it interesting that the feeling of amazement is linked with curiosity and doubt at the same time, a spark for a desire to learn. To me it is a sign that real learning happens when we are moved first, when we become curious.

What does wonder accomplishes?

-Wonder breaks hedonism and keeps us inspired. It’s raw and real, and elevates us from the day to day.
-Wonder sparks an urge to explore, discorder and learn. To grow from on mystery to the next.
-Wonder can increase our sensitivity to our own experiences, others, beauty and life. It is an ignition for positive feelings
-Wonder could have health and mental benefits just like gratitude

What are the factors than leads to a sense of wonder?
As we just saw, wonder comes from:
Newness and surprise
-beauty and grandeur
-Personal sensitivity and impressionability
-Natural curiosity and imagination

I’ll first share a few ideas to allow wonder to naturally arrise in our life, and then share specific techniques to practice.

Ideas that can help to allow a sense of wonder in your life:

Expose yourself to scenic views:

Seing beauty and grandeur is a great way to be inspired and awed. When we are open to and confronted by vastness, it is easy to feel moved. We can feel small and connected at the same time. Being reminded of how large the world is help us take distance from our own life an think about a grandeur picture.

Developing the habit of being expose to a scenic view regularly can help think more globally, develop perspective and feel connected to something bigger than ourselves.This can lead sense of meaning within us as well as a sense of altruism and responsibility.

Scenic scenes makes us feel good, and we can carry that good feeling with long after we’ve stopped watching. You can even try to capture those beautiful landscapes in your mind and train you’re photographic memory. You’ll just have to close your eyes, to re-experience these good feelings.

Expose yourself to scenes such as: the sea, the sky and stars, mountains and valleys, cities from vantage points, sun rises and sun sets. In general is involves being high and looking down or being low and looking up. Maybe you can find a vantage spot near you that you like to spend a few minutes there everyday.

There is a reason why executive favor good views for there offices. Beyond a symbol of status, it nourish inspiration and creativity.

Spend time in nature:

Spending time in nature has so many benefits. It calms our mind, allow us to slow down and lower stress. It also exposes us to beauty and a plethora of sensory stimuli, sights and colors, smells and noises. It allow us to breath clean air and exercise.

Because there is an entire ecosystem present, you can allow yourself to notice anything from very small to very big. In my opinion, nature is so rich that it is the best way to experience awe and wonder.

Plan to go for a walk in nature for a few hours, maybe once a week of even once a fortnight. Don’t treat it as a sporting challenge but instead take your time a look around. Allow yourself to really take it in.

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” Aristotle

Traveling and sightseeing:

Traveling, especially on holidays is also a great to experience wonder. During holidays we are free from responsibilities and stress, therefore we are more open to experience the beauty of the present.

One of the reasons we travel is for sight seeing and experiencing a new environment. Because we seek experiences and newness, we are more likely to get it. With the differences in our environment, we are more likely to be surprised and disrupted in our thinking pattern, forced to pay attention and change our world view in order to adapt.

Traveling is not available to everybody, but images of remote places can achieve the same result. Go to your local library and gaze through travel or photography books and magasins and let yourself dream.

“Though we travel the world over the find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Spending time with kids and animals:

Spending time with kids is a great way to let your sense of wonder arrise. Kids live in the now and are so easily moved and exited by what is around them. They haven’t develop the filters to screen the environment yet, so they tend to notice the world more. Notice what children notice, play with them, maybe let yourself be a bit more like them. Let yourself be exited and curious.

Animals are similar. Because they don’t have any agenda and are not trying to impress anyone, they just do what they want, let themselves be drawn and investigate. Stop thinking of others and whats around you for a while and allow yourself to be drawn to things, forget about time and responsibilities for durations of times.Maybe you can plan a time during the day, when you do everything by instinct.

Slowing down:

We often don’t notice things because we are going to fast and we are to busy. When you take the time to really notice things, you open yourself to a new dimension, a new understanding. When you spend the time, things that didn’t registered at first glance appears.

In order to be able to slow down, you need to have the space for it. Plan some time in your day for serendipity and procrastination. It might be a walk, slouching on you couch or gazing at the sky.

You also need to have a long enough attention span so that you are not always distracted with thoughts and desires, wanting to move to something else as soon as you begin. Most of the time, people rush because they are more concerned with outcomes than how they get there, but they rush from one thing to the next without ever enjoying themselves.

Develop sensitivity:

We often associate sensitivity with weakness and instability. But sensitivity means to be able to take things in. The reason we’re not moved is because our filters are to strong. Of course it is important to have boundaries to be at peace, but we need to let ourselves feel, we need to let things in in order to feel alive.

Not being moved is like being dead. Sensitivity is a trait of character that can be develop, it is a skill as well as a choice. It is often what we loose as we grow up because we are tiered of being hurt and deceived. But it is also how we loose our spark of life.

Beyond seeing: observe

Seeing is automatic and allows us to navigate and respond to our environment. Observing however is a conscious choice. When you see, you expend the minimum amount of cognitive effort necessary in order to “grasp” or categories a object. But often this leads to reducing the reality of the object greatly, jumping to conclusions, prejudgments, and mental errors, because your brains feels in the blanks.

When you choose to observe, you allow yourself time to be open to the dimensions of the object, you can really notice its existence.

You can practice observing through contemplation and long gazing:
Contemplation is a practice that has meditative qualities. You look at a scene for an extended amount of time. When we start to purposely look, and practice observing, we can realise how rich everything around us really is.

You can practice contemplation with any object that you like. It just requires that you spend a bit of time observing an object, a few minutes or more. It can be anything from a face, to a scenery, to a man made object or design, to movements, to animals, plants, nature, human interactions,etc. You can even contemplate in your mind using visualisation. Develop a scene in your mind and take time to flush out as many details as you can.

A great way to learn to observe is to pick up Photography and or/drawing. Drawing and taking photos regularly (not selfies) forces you to observe and see things in a new light. Paying attention to frames, colors backgrounds, textures and light. It can really open you up to the beauty or uniqueness of your environment. If the idea interests you, try to take photo everywhere you go,

“The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Beyond hearing: listen

There are noises around you all the time. Yet we only pay attention to sounds when something disrupt us by being loud or strange. But if we pay attention, the web of sounds can remind us that life happens around us. Listening to life can let us feel connected, relax us, and let us wonder.

Background or white noises, such as rain, waves, city sounds and sounds of nature can elevate as well as relax.

Music is a great way to enter an altered state of being. Beautiful pieces can loosen feelings inside of us. Spark that inspiration of grander and wonder, a connection beyond ourselves.
Don’t just listen to music in the background, lay down and put headphones on, and really dive into the sounds as you let it flows through you.

Let yourself feel:

Do you really pay attention to your body? There is so much information going on through your nerves that you do not even notice. Sometimes just taking catching a breath and paying attention to how we feel inside can let us realize our aliveness filling us with gratitude.

When you touch and get touched do you really pay attention to how it feels, or are you distracted by thoughts and ideas in your mind. Try to pay attention to textures and let yourself appreciate the awesome experience of being inside a human body.

Expand your mind:

Awe and wonder are states of mind. You need to be open and ready to receive inspiration. The things you focus on become who you are.

Take time to reflect on the grand and infinite. Think about the infinity of possibilities, the big bang, the universe, the billions of other people living on this planets. Think about the infinitely small and the infinitely big. About spirituality and divinity or maybe the randomness and mysteries of life.

If you regularly spend time of thinking about subject beyond the scope of human understanding, the more you will open your mind to marvel at reality.

Allow yourself to dream and imagine anything in your mind. Developing your imagination lets you stay creative, be open to experience new things and accept that you do not understand everything. You can even keep track of your dream to facilitate this process.

Marvel at science and philosophy, seek the “aha” moments that leave you floored.
Being exposed to new ideas and facts keeps us humble and open to learning. Knowing and expertise is the death of learning and growth. Stay curious and keep seeking new ideas.
Be inspired by the genius of men and women that came before, marvel at inventions and creations. We truly leave in a rich world.

“To science, not even the bark of a tree or a drop of pond water is dull or a handful of dirt banal. They all arouse and wonder.” Jane Jacobs

Go beyond the confort zone:

We now understand that awe often comes from surprises and the unexpected. Make a habit of embracing randomness. Maybe you can use a coin toss to make decisions when the consequence are irrelevant and see what happen. That’s exactly what Ryan Reynolds does in the movie Chaos theory to escape the mundane.

Allow yourself to change context. Go to places you’ve never been before. Try new creative activities, join a new community.

Engage deeply with others and learn not to take people at face values. You will often be inspired and impress by the depth of others. People are like micro universe, windows to entire new experiences of life and possibilities. Make a point of collecting stories from people and be amazed at what comes up.

Put yourself in environments where you can be tricked and challenged:
Go out with friend to experience shows that are designed to impress you such as:
Magic shows, acrobatic circus, lighting and water shows, fireworks etc.

Cultivate mysteries, go to escape rooms, solve puzzles. Find little challenges that stimulates you and force you to think creatively. There nothing is like a challenge between friend to feel like a kid again and think outside the box. Maybe you can get into the habit of organizing surprises and pranks with your close ones, to keep life fun, interesting and challenging.

If you are already exposed to opportunities when you can experience wonder, you can take it a step further and turn it into a practice.

4 Key techniques to facilitate a sense of wonder:

Using anchoring:
The next time you are feeling a sense of wonder or awe, use and anchoring technique to link this feeling with either a word or a physical sensation. If you do that repetitively, a state of wonder can be associated with a trigger. Then you can use that trigger in order to help that feeling of wonder arise whenever you want.

Personally, whenever I am moved by beauty, I press the thumb and forefinger of my left hand together. Whenever I press them together, a sense of wonder easily arise and I am able to appreciate the beauty around me more easily. Both experience and physical motion are self-reinforcing in a feedback loop.

Design your environment:
Surround yourself with things that you find beautiful and inspiring. It maybe art or flowers or furniture you really like. Maybe you are lucky enough to afford living or working with a nice view.
Or maybe you can place object that reminds your of grand concepts and ideas. Whatever it is for you, place in your environments things that trigger your sense of wonder and make you feel like a child, or make you feel touch by beauty.

Contemplation practice:
Spend a few minutes each day gazing at something you find beautiful. Taking time to really take something in will allow you to enjoy it more deeply. If you practice contemplation regularly, you develop your sensitivity and the quality of your observation. You also tend to forget your ego by placing your attention on the outside world, developing your sense of connectedness.

Imagination training:
Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes close your eyes and imagine a world or a scene. Try to incorporate as many details as you can and involve all your sense. Where are you? What’s presents? Pay attention to colors, light, shapes, objects, persons, movements. Can you smell, hear, feel anything? Zoom in and out of objects, detail them as precisely as you can in your mind.

Imagine a show of wonders displaying just for you in the secret chamber of your mind. It may sound cheesy, but if you train your imagination regularly, you will start to pay more attention to details, explore things you weren’t previously aware of. You’ll soon find yourself touched and attracted to more things in your life.

Use a journal:
Just like gratitude, you can write one thing that you were impress by today, or one thing that you found beautiful. On a scale of one to ten, how much did it affect you? Is there away you could have gotten more out of that experience?

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art an science.” Albert Eisenstein.

To conclude, I would like you to consider practicing a sense of wonder in your daily life, just like gratitude, I believe it has the potential of making you happier.
Pick on of these techniques and practice for a view weeks and see if you come across a difference in your experience. Let me know in the comment section bellow what you’ve experienced.

Thank for reading
Vince

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