Why the World Needs More Wonder Part Three
“I think we are here to wonder… the more I wonder, the more I love.”
~ Alice Walker
As I am getting ready to share my new online course, Awakening to Wonder, I wanted to do a recap of the many blogs I've shared throughout 2018 on the benefits of awe, wonder, reverence, and the related emotions. Without further ado, here are some of the reasons why I believe humanity would greatly benefit from experiencing a deeper sense of wonder, awe, and reverence, and why I am so passionate about the subject.
Experiencing states of awe, wonder, and reverence...
1. Increases Your Quality of Life
"A life shaped by wonder, as we shall see, is characterized by intellectual and moral sensibilities that open up the widest possible world of personal fulfillment" ~ Robert Fuller, Wonder
Let's start with a point that is fairly self-evident. The subjective experience of wonder, curiosity, and amazement are enjoyable experiences. These states feel good. And we like feeling good. This is a simple point, but one worth noting, as many of us are struggling to feel good these days.
2. Helps You Step Up On Your Upward Spiral
“The difference between peak performance and poor performance is not intelligence or ability; most often it’s the state that your mind and body is in.”
~ Tony Robbins
Opening ourselves up to seeing and appreciating the simple wonders around us can be one of the most effective and easy ways to change one's state and to begin an upward spiral. If we are able to allow wonder to open us up and to uplift our spirits, we can use that momentum to take the next step to feeling better and taking better care of ourselves, thus stepping up on a virtuous, or upward spiral.
Moral elevation, an emotional state related to wonder and awe, is the feeling you get when witnessing a great act of moral goodness. Jonathan Haidt, author of Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good, said, “powerful moments of elevation seem to push a mental reset button, erasing negative feelings and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and optimism.”
3. Fosters Openness
"As Jonathan Haidt put it, wonder opens our hearts and minds. It motivates a quest for increased connection with the putative source of unexpected displays of life, beauty, or truth. This originally requires increased openness or receptivity rather than instrumental action. Wonder is thus somewhat rare among the emotions in its functional capacity to motivate people to venture outward into increased rapport with the environment." (Source)
In Nico Frijda's book, The Emotions, he describes the purpose of the facial expression of wonder, amazement, and surprise, saying "raising the eyebrows facilitates lifting the upper eyelid, and together they are supposed to facilitate rapid eye movements and enlarge the field of peripheral vision." Not only does wonder enlarge our field of vision, but it also seems to enlarge our mental space, often opening us up to contemplate larger questions about the universe and come up with novel ideas.
4. Orients Us Towards Something Larger
"However elicited, experiences of awe are unified by a core theme: perceptions of vastness that dramatically expand the observer’s usual frame of reference in some dimension or domain" (source).
Much of the research on awe points to the "small self" phenomena, where people, when witnessing sights of such grandeur as Mount Everest or images of supernova explosions, feel a sense of being small in a vast and grand universe. This often results in the feeling of one's problems becoming smaller and less significant as well as feeling like a part of something larger (source).
Reverence, a sister to awe and wonder, also connects us with a sense of something larger. In a graduation speech that Dacher Keltner gave, he said, "in caring and imagining the lives of others, we encounter the fragile, fleeting beauty of life. This is the heart of reverence—our recognition that we are part of something sacred that is larger than any individual self.”
5. Increases Prosocial Behavior
"No matter how you bring about these experiences," Paul Piff says in his talk titled Can Awe Combat Narcissism?, "...experiences of awe make people feel relatively less significant and more connected to something bigger, larger, more powerful than their individual self. And similarly,... we also find that awe brings about significant boosts in a person's generosity, their willingness to help others, their willingness to behave in more ethical ways, and take on the needs of others and de-prioritize their own individual goals and concerns. And, awe seems to give rise to these increased patterns of generosity, compassion, and kindness because of this relative smallness that awe can bring about."
6. Increases Compassion
"Indeed, moral theorist Martha Nussbaum concludes that wonder is the principle emotion that can lift us beyond the pursuit of immediate self-interest. Nussbaum notes how wonder takes us beyond self-absorption and makes it possible for us to see people and objects as worthy in their own right. Wonder is thus intimately linked with compassion and the capacity to act to preserve the integrity of life even when there is no immediate connection with one's own self-interest." (Source)
Reverence, a sister emotion to wonder and sometimes considered a cardinal virtue, is also closely related to compassion. From a sense of reverence for all life, compassion naturally emerges. As Paul Woodruff said, "reverence entails compassion, because it entails understanding the weaknesses you share with other human beings. When the reverent soul is aware of human suffering, it does not turn away. ‘That suffering could have just as easily been mine,' says the reverent soul, and feels accordingly. Then the reverent soul follows those compassionate feelings into action" (source).
7. Brings Us Into the Present and Expands Our Sense of Time
"Experiences of awe bring peop