Wonder Is a Skill We Are All Capable of Relearning
Why this most human of emotions matters, now more than ever
I WONDER. All great discoveries and personal breakthroughs began with those two words.
“Wonder” is a wonderful word. It’s impossible to say it aloud without smiling. The English “wonder” traces its roots to the Latin miraculu, which means “anything wonderful, beyond human power…a supernatural event.” A miracle, in other words.
You don’t need to believe in the supernatural to experience wonder. No less a scientist than Albert Einstein called wonder the source of all art and science. “He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed,” he said.
“All philosophy begins with wonder,” Socrates said. Aristotle agreed, adding that wonder is the vehicle we use to escape ignorance. Centuries later, Thomas Aquinas linked wonder with its cousin, awe, noting that “poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”
Wonder is a complex emotion that contains elements of surprise, contemplation and joy — and, most important, a heightened state of consciousness.
Wonder is emotional and physical. When we experience wonder, explains psychologist Nico Frijda in his book The Emotions, we undergo a series of physiological changes that “consists of widening of the eyes, brief suspension of breathing, and general loss of muscle tone.” This loss of muscle tone causes your mouth to fall open, and may make you shaky on your feet. These responses occur in infants as young as five months old, as well as in cats, dogs and monkeys.
The good news is that wonder isn’t something you’re either born with or not, like blond hair or freckles. Wonder is a skill, one we’re all capable of learning — or, more accurately relearning.
On one level, to wonder is to seek information, in Siri fashion. I wonder where I can find some dark chocolate? On another level, to wonder is to suspend inquiry, at least momentarily, and simply behold. I wonder what it is about good Belgian chocolate…