THE BLOG

How Wonder Can Save Your Life

05/08/2014 13:06 BST | Updated 03/10/2014 10:59 BST

I am currently in Japan teaching mindful-based leadership at an international leadership academy (ISAK). Here is what this morning's run in the Japanese countryside had to offer. It began with a glimpse of this farmhouse.

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There was a brief stop at this stone memorial,

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A snack of wild raspberries,

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The quiet of these beautiful woods,

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And this view of Mt. Korufu (left) and Mt. Asama (right). Mt. Asama is an active volcano that last erupted in 2009.

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There was a lot to observe and wonder about on this short run. Wonder, a combination of curiosity and appreciation, is a powerful experience that is good for your physical and psychological health as well as your relationships, creativity, and work performance. The experience of wonder is associated with a reduction in stress and activity in the brain that expands the perception of options. On the other hand, psychological rigidity - the need to be right at all costs - is associated with lower quality of life, difficulty in relationships, and poor leadership skills. In addition, being overly rigid and certain can result in stress-related illness such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and inflammatory response. Not only is wonder good for you, it could actually save your life.

Rather than wait for the experience of wonder to show up, you can make it a regular practice by taking time to intentionally observe whatever is around you. As you are observing quietly, take a gentle breath, relax your shoulders and belly, and imagine an open and warm expansiveness across your chest. It can also help to allow yourself to smile lightly. All of these behaviors trigger changes in physiology and activate areas of the brain that are associated with overall well-being, creative responses, and interpersonal connection.

The power of wonder has been appreciated for a very long time - the words wonder and miracle share an intertwined history. Miracle is derived from ancient words such as the Latin "mirari," which means "to wonder at" and the Proto-Indo-European "smeiros" which means "to smile or laugh." So, wonder can be thought of as a response to something seemingly miraculous, and it can also be thought of as a perspective that allows something to appear miraculous. This brings me to another useful practice - stopping from time to time to bring wonder to the fact of your existence.

Where did all this come from - you, the mountains, the trees, the sunrise, raspberries, and the ability to be consciously aware of it all? Some people believe that existence is due to the design of an all-knowing intelligence, while others believe it is the result of matter and energy self-organizing and continually evolving. Both of these possibilities seem absolutely incredible to me. I imagine that strong proponents of either of these beliefs would disagree with me, but I have a hard time seeing how one explanation for existence is more worthy of wonder than any other. Is it really necessary to be certain of where this all came from in order to be deeply appreciative and grateful?

Here you are - the miracle of existence is playing out in front of you as you read this. There are unlimited opportunities to practice wonder everyday. What you do with that is your choice. To quote Mary Oliver from her wonderful poem, 'The Summer Day' - "What will you do with your one wild and precious life?" What are you practicing right now?

Have a practice that works for you? I invite you to share your experience in the comment section below so that others will benefit.

Resources:

Gallagher, M. W., & Lopez, S. J. (2007). Curiosity and well-being. The journal of positive psychology, 2(4), 236-248.

Kashdan, T. B., Rose, P., & Fincham, F. D. (2004). Curiosity and exploration: Facilitating positive subjective experiences and personal growth opportunities. Journal of personality assessment, 82(3), 291-305.

Kashdan, T. B., & Steger, M. F. (2007). Curiosity and pathways to well-being and meaning in life: Traits, states, and everyday behaviors. Motivation and Emotion, 31(3), 159-173.

Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 865-878.

Packer, T. (2002). The wonder of presence: And the way of meditative inquiry. Shambhala Publications.

Rozanski, A., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2005). Psychologic functioning and physical health: a paradigm of flexibility. Psychosomatic medicine, 67, S47-S53.