We are living in a world where it is becoming harder and harder to retain our sense of wonder. It’s even more difficult in the midst of a seemingly never-ending pandemic. Over the last year, we all have been so busy trying to make sense of our world, I am not sure how many of us even have recognised or realised that we are losing our capacity to experience this subtle emotion.
As a therapist, my understanding is that people who manage to thrive and also continue to be hopeful are the ones who have learnt the art of seeing the world and their own life with a continued sense of novelty and curiosity. Not just that, they can tune in to these experiences in their daily lives. The absence of a sense of wonder can, indeed, add to our sense of cynicism and a feeling that life is monotonous and boring.
Wonder as an emotion includes elements of surprise, curiosity, a sense of joy, even a feeling of awe. When we see adults who have this sense of wonder, we often think of them as having this child-like quality whereby they have the ability to marvel at experiences as they unfold. It’s strange how growing up also means, consciously or unconsciously, letting go of some positive emotions.
Developing wonder has to do with our capacity to pause and absorb positive experiences. It involves constantly “not living in our own head and thoughts”. When we are moving from one task to another, there is no space for noticing and dipping into the astonishment that accompanies a sense of wonder. In a world so oriented towards “doing”, maybe we forget to give ourselves the permission to even step back and notice. Possibly, a certain haste or urgency to do things, and our anxiety, comes in the way of us experiencing and staying with pleasant memories.
Raising a child sometimes reminds us of how some things automatically come to children, while we adults need to make a conscious effort. My daughter and I go for evening walks and during those 30 minutes, I recognise the many opportunities to experience a sense of wonder. Whether it’s noticing the sky change colour, watching the trees or listening to bird sounds, it’s all out there: micro experiences that can surprise us. While our external world feels chaotic and unsafe, it’s such a wonder that nature continues to heal us day in and day out.
Very often, clients ask how they can maintain their sense of wonder in the absence of new events. The reality is, human beings are capable of revisiting past events that evoked joy and wonder. Pursuing new experiences, we forget to call on, and dip into, those old memories that can heal us and warm our hearts.
I watched a series on Netflix that evoked memories of summer holidays in Ferozepur and Muktsar. Memories of sunflower fields, power cuts, the freedom to run in the streets, and all the delicious food I ate as a child, came gushing back. I savoured the memory, not just at a thinking level but as a feeling. It consumed me, even stimulating the taste buds. Suddenly, I realised how idyllic my summer holidays felt.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that our brains are capable of accessing pleasant memories and allowing us to savour those experiences in the present, even within the four walls of our house?
Whether it’s in the form of children’s picture books, the process of mixing colours, soothing messages or even mindful conversations, there are many possibilities for us to experience a sense of wonder. Maybe that’s why Socrates said, “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” Ask yourself what evokes a sense of wonder in you and let the answers guide you.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.
Also read: Making way for mindfulness