Last weekend I stood on L.A.’s Playa del Rey beach, facing the Pacific. My toes anchored in the sand as the retracting tide fought to pull grains from beneath my feet back into the vast ocean.
I dug in deeper, determined to stay put as each wave taunted my sense of balance. The water was frigid on my feet, and each submersion took a little more of my breath away.
Our daughters raced back and forth nearby, squealing in delight as breaking waves chased them along the shell-scattered sand.
Another icy wave swept over my feet.
Inhaling deeply, I didn’t step back. Each wave felt like part of a wake-up call, stirring my senses. I felt alive, energized, and something within me—something I hadn’t felt in a while—began to resurface.
The past two months had been steeped with illness and transition. A Covid-related hospital stint. A new home. A new puppy. New responsibilities. A new routine. While the challenges and novelty were intermixed with blessings, I couldn’t shake the feeling that completing “to-do’s” had dominated this season of life.
It was a season that certainly lacked balance, as some seasons do. But there, standing in the salty Pacific, struggling to keep my balance against the tide and my seven-month pregnant belly, I felt that balance was exactly what I was calling back into my life.
Balance reclaimed by wonder.
We’re all born with a strong sense of wonder, but as we enter adulthood, pursuing what we hope will make us happy, many of us misplace it.
We adopt lives of constant motion, striving to keep up with the pace and standards endorsed by our culture. We begin living on auto-pilot, wearing success-driven blinders that nullify our sense of awe. We become so focused on getting through the daily grind that we forget each ordinary day is marked by tiny miracles.
It’s in the pauses, the slower moments, that we reclaim any sense of wonder in our lives.
And wonder is worth reclaiming. Researchers are finding that regularly experiencing a sense of awe may boost immunity, lower stress, fight inflammation and enhance your well-being.
Piercarlo Valdesolo, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College in California said, “Wonder is the emotional vehicle that makes you feel connected to something larger than yourself. Awe makes you feel less entitled, less narcissistic, and more compassionate because you feel less important. That’s the part that matters for kindness and generosity.”
In short, living a life that cultivates wonder improves your physical and mental well-being and makes life richer.
You don’t have to travel to the Pacific to live a life open to wonder.
Here are 6 ways to reclaim wonder in your life.
1. Practice Awareness
Increasing your awareness in everyday life allows you to marvel at moments. You simply can’t feel awe toward what you don’t notice.
Practice becoming mindful of your surroundings. Instead of just looking at something, begin describing it in your mind. Be as descriptive as possible, including color, texture, and, if possible, emotion. Practice being an objective observer of your surroundings. Ground yourself in reality, silence your thoughts, and just observe. The wider you open your eyes to the present moment, the more glimpses you’ll catch that inspire awe.
2. Experience Novelty
Breaking out of your routine forces you to pay attention to your surroundings. Brain research has also shown that a rush of dopamine accompanies fresh experiences of any kind.
As children, our lives were full of novelty, and, hence, more wonder. Adulthood brings days filled with familiar experiences. New experiences could be simple, such as meeting a new friend or learning a new skill, or large scale, such as traveling to a new place.
Weave more novelty into your life, and you’ll increase your capacity to experience wonder.
3. Embrace your Inner child
What was it that you loved to do as a child? Paint? Sit outside and gather flowers? Catch frogs? (Yes, that last one was mine.)
Re-engaging in childhood pastimes, you’ll reconnect with your inner child and rekindle the wonder you used to feel. Think of one “inner-child” activity you can do this week. Observe how you feel afterward.
4. Live with less
Living a minimalist lifestyle, with less stuff to clean and care for and fewer half-hearted commitments to juggle leaves you with more space to encounter wonder. If your life feels weighed down by stuff, experiencing wonder in everyday life is no easy feat.
Choose the area of your home that bothers you the most (for me, it was kids’ clothes when I dove into minimalism). Start decluttering that area today. Clearing more physical space creates more space in your life for activities that inspire awe.
5. Pause purposefully
Is the pace of your life one that makes space for wonder? If not, begin building slow moments into your day. Plan to sit in silence for five minutes in the morning. Turn your phone off at lunch for 10 minutes and step into nature. Step outside on clear nights for five minutes and observe the stars.
Purposeful pauses remind us not to rush through life. Stepping out of doing mode and into being mode—even briefly—can profoundly shift our perspective and provoke awe.
6. Let life surprise you
Productivity experts tell us to plan out our day to maximize our time and ensure efficiency. While planning isn’t a bad thing, if we start our day certain of how it will unfold, we miss the opportunity to let life surprise us.
How often does a day go as expected? Rarely. If we become overly focused instead of flexible—forcing “what’s next” instead of open to the moment—we miss the chance to experience awe.
At the end of each day, reflect on three ways life surprised you that day. Soon you’ll start looking for these surprises during the day—they’re likely to inspire wonder.
Author W.B. Yeats said, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
My senses were re-sharpened that day on the L.A. beach. And since returning home, my goal is to not let them become dull, regardless of what life brings.
How present is your sense of wonder? Does it surface daily or need to be uncovered?
With a little intentionality, we can reclaim our sense of wonder in the everyday, ordinary moments of life.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog richinwhatmatters.com. Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City home with her husband, two extremely lively young daughters, and one-year-old son.