Why You Should Fill Your Life With Wonder

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A few years ago, on a blisteringly hot summer day in Nashville, I had the privilege of seeing my favorite band U2 in concert. They hadn’t played in Nashville since 1981, so I knew it was going to be a good show.

Near the end of the concert, Bono quieted the audience and started singing Amazing Grace. It didn’t take long before everyone in that stadium was singing along. I was right next to the stage, and I remember turning around and seeing thousands and thousands of people with their arms in the air singing an old-time gospel hymn. I was speechless. There was an overwhelming sense of awe that I hope I never forget.

I bet you have similar stories of experiencing profound awe and wonder. Maybe you felt it while watching a bride walk down the aisle. Or maybe you stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon and for a moment understood just how small you really are in this universe. We long for these moments of wonder. They almost feel miraculous.

In a recent New York Times article, two psychologists provided scientific evidence that experiencing wonder and awe can actually make you a better person:

“Through many activities that give us goose bumps — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.”

Using several different experiments, these psychologists discovered that people who experience more awe in their lives are often more generous, thoughtful, humble, and selfless.

“We found that awe helps bind us to others, motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities,” they write. The moments that give us goose bumps help us feel more connected to each other.

Awe pulls us out of our small, insulated lives and widens our point of view. It reminds us that we’re part of something bigger, that we’re all in this together. When people share a moment of wonder and awe, the differences that once kept them apart fall to the side. They’re bound by something greater. These moments strengthen our ability to empathize with and care for others. They remind us of what’s truly important.

Experiencing wonder makes us better neighbors.

The two psychologists who performed these studies suggest that experiencing awe helps develop virtues that benefit the common good:

“We believe that awe deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others. To reverse this trend, we suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe, to actively seek out what gives them goose bumps…”

So how can we cultivate awe and wonder in our lives? What can we do to make sure we’re filling our days with the things that give us goose bumps?

I think it all starts with paying attention. Most days we wake up, eat breakfast, go to class or work, come home, eat dinner, hang out with friends, watch Netflix, and then go to bed. And we’re usually on our cellphones throughout all of that. We get into these rhythms, and we don’t take time to look around and experience the everyday wonder that surrounds us.

Let’s be people who carve out the time and space to recognize the spectacular things. Let’s be people who don’t miss the beauty, the wonder.

Look at the night sky every chance you get. Go camping. Stay up late talking with old friends. Appreciate the simplicity of a plant that grows toward the sunlight. Hang out with a newborn baby. Tutor underprivileged kids. Learn how to recognize the every day acts of courage, grace, and mercy that go unnoticed.

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