Nurture a Sense of Wonder

Think and Wonder

Written by Nicole Scheidl

June 9, 2020

A sense of wonder can improve engagement with life. Increased engagement with life makes life more meaningful. An important aspect of brain health is having meaning in your life.

At Fit Minds we think of meaning as the sixth and overarching element of brain health. The other five areas that are important to brain health are physical activity, nutrition, mental activity, socialization, and spirituality.

Research on meaning in life is contributing to our understanding of its impact on brain health and aging well. A recent study set out an interesting structure for considering meaning in life. Meaning was divided into three components: purpose in life, a sense of coherence and engagement with life. In this post, I want to examine the concept of engagement with life and in particular how we can improve it by cultivating a sense of wonder.

Creating Wonder and Improving Engagement with Life

When the question is asked – “are you engaged with life” – what comes to mind?

I think of continuous or life-long learning.

As part of life-long learning, I like to attend conferences that make me think. I pick up stories and new perspectives that help me grow as a person.  One of the stories that has stuck with me was of a Nobel prize winner attributing his success to his mother. She never asked him at the end of the school day: “What did you learn today?” Instead, she asked him: “Did you ask a good question today?

She made him a more proactive learner by encouraging him to engage with what he was learning. When we create a feeling of wonder and curiosity in our children and in ourselves, we set the stage for a lifetime of learning. We know from the science that continuous learning is a key aspect of keeping our brains healthy and aging well. Putting the novel and complex into our life is very good for our brain. Now that is easy to do when you are in school, because ideally that should be what your teacher does for you each day but it is more challenging when you leave school and need to take that initiative for yourself.

When we are no longer in school, the initiative for creating engagement falls on us. One way of creating engagement is to foster an attitude of curiosity and wonder. Here are three things that you can do to create wonder in your life:

Fifteen Minutes – Fifty Questions

Take 15 minutes and write down 50 questions you have about the world. This may feel like a lot of questions but there is a lot to be curious about! At the top of your page write the words: “I wonder …”  and then for 15 minutes let the curiosity flow. Since the time is short you must really let your mind go and not be restricted in asking ‘sensible’ questions. When your 15 minutes is up, pick just one of those questions and find the answer today. You can return to your list each day for a fresh and ‘curious’ look at the world.

Wonder and the Natural World

Another way to increase a sense of wonder is to spend time with nature.  Enjoying the natural world and spending time observing the interactions of plants, animals and ecosystems can create a sense of wonder. Recently I enjoyed watching a family of robins grow and take flight right outside my living room window. It was amazing the way they grew so quickly, and it sparked my curiosity to learn more about their growth and lifespan. I was curious and did some basic robin research. Now whenever I see one on my daily walks, I look at them with greater interest. I am more observant and engaged and this is good for my brain.

The natural world can startle and amaze us. It can pull us out of routine thinking or what I like to call cognitive drift. That’s the feeling you have when you just drift along and disengage your mind, essentially moving along on auto pilot. We all suffer from that. Being more engaged can make a big difference in how we interact with and enjoy life.

Avoid Cynicism

And finally, avoid a cynical attitude towards life. Cynicism is a killer when it comes to having a sense of wonder and impairs our ability to engage meaningfully with others. If your temperament is inclined towards the cynical or negative, work at reframing the way you approach life by creating a more positive outlook. This can be challenging but is worth the effort since recent research has found a link between repetitive negative thinking and Alzheimer’s pathology.  [Read more about the impact that a positive attitude has on brain health and aging well.]

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