WARNING: What you are about to read may help you become significantly happier.
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Youth is the most beautiful thing in this world—and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!” In certain respects, this may be true. After all, the young often fail to appreciate the very things the aged have learned to cherish. However, when it comes to perspective and greeting life with wide-eyes full of curiosity and captivation, nothing beats good, old-fashioned childlike wonder.
What exactly is “childlike wonder”? Imagine looking at the faces of those watching a SpaceX rocket put a Tesla car into orbit. Now imagine looking at the faces of those walking into Disney World’s Magic Kingdom for the first time. Now imagine looking at the face of a child greeting their new pet puppy for the first time. The expression on all those faces is 100% childlike wonder. And being an adult, and facing the world and everything it offers—good and bad—with that kind of outlook can mean the difference between being bummed out and pretty darn happy all the time.
Why Should We Maintain a Childlike Sense of Wonder?
Sometimes life throws curveballs. As per Ed Kopko’s book, “Project Bold Life: The Proven Formula for Taking on Challenges and Achieving Happiness and Success”: “Loss of job, financial ruin and struggles to provide for yourself and family can lead to enormous stress. During these points in time, turning points in many cases, thinking about living a bold life is the furthest thing on people’s minds.” Of course, pessimists and optimists will argue about glasses being half-empty and half-full, but it’s hard to put a positive spin on a flat tire. Or bad day at work. Or rain during a picnic. Sometimes the world can be rough. Enter childlike wonder.
A little childlike wonder can go a long way toward finding the bright side. It can help someone find hope where others don’t. It can also help a person choose to see the positive things in life, regardless of difficulties and challenges. Ultimately, it’s about seeing the silver lining in those gray clouds overhead. Keep looking up.
In addition, maintaining childlike wonder cultivates a creative mind. Walter Isaacson, the CEO at Aspen Institute, sums this thought up in this excerpt from his book, “Einstein: His Life and Universe”:
“Throughout his life, Albert Einstein would retain the intuition and the awe of a child. He never lost his sense of wonder at the magic of nature’s phenomena-magnetic fields, gravity, inertia, acceleration, light beams-which grown-ups find so commonplace. He retained the ability to hold two thoughts in his mind simultaneously, to be puzzled when they conflicted, and to marvel when he could smell an underlying unity. ‘People like you and me never grow old,’ he wrote a friend later in life. ‘We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.’”
Because Einstein maintained his childlike sense of wonder, he developed his curiosity and ventured into the unknown that yielded his most notable discoveries in science.
The Seven Secrets of Maintaining Childlike Wonder
The benefits to filtering the stimulus of the world through a lens of childlike wonder are clear. So how does one accomplish this? Here are seven secrets.
Smile when you feel like it. Smile when you don’t. This step may seem irrelevant in developing a childlike sense of wonder, but by intentionally choosing to smile no matter what, you are helping yourself feel happier and have a more positive outlook. The decision to smile can help you develop unadulterated enthusiasm for things that are fun or exciting. Plus, you’ll be able to follow the next steps relatively easier.
2. Be Kind
Don’t be selfish with words of encouragement. Compliment people. If they’re doing a good job, then say it! Greet people appropriately when you meet them on the street, in the office, or on the elevator. See the best in people. Put others first. This step can help you develop genuine sincerity. Also, kindness is connected to contentedness. So, for the small things and for the big things you have, be grateful.
3. Be Curious
Try looking up in the sky and wonder about the clouds, the color of the sky—everything. Suspend your disbelief and try to forget logic when the situation calls for it. Ask questions—no matter if they “sound stupid”. Wonder a lot.
4. Listen and Understand
Stop jumping to conclusions. Don’t judge. Choose to give people the benefit of the doubt. Make a decision to see things from where the other person is coming from. Take things as they are. When people say “It’s okay” or “I accept your apology,” take it as it is. Don’t doubt their sincerity—even when they reject yours. Decide to stop, shut up, listen and understand.
5. Always Hope for the Best
Don’t let your current situation define how you feel. Yes, it’s good to validate your emotions and to let yourself feel sadness or anger. But don’t stop there. Decide to look for the silver lining in every dark cloud. Even when everything looks dire, stop yourself from giving into the bottomless pit of cynicism.
6. Decide to be Fearless
Don’t back down from challenges. Be bold with your ideas. Practice honesty that is motivated by kindness and without any malice. This step goes together with hoping for the best and understanding others. Regardless of how other people view you or your ideas because you hope for the best and give others the benefit of the doubt, you are able to free yourself from the trap of overthinking and judging others—thus, allowing yourself to be truly fearless in life. Also, deciding to be fearless can actually help you do the last step.
7. Dream Big—Regardless of Your Age
Be fearless and dream big! Life is too short to dwell on past mistakes and worry about failing again. If you fail again today, try again tomorrow. Hoping for the best and deciding to be fearless will help spur you to dream big regardless of where you are in your life now. C.S. Lewis once said, “You are never too old to set another goal, or to dream a new dream.”
Beyond the Burdens of Adulthood in a Cynical World
The secrets given here are not exhaustive—far from it! It may be difficult to apply one or all of them immediately. That’s understandable. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said in “The Little Prince”, “All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.” But it’s never too late. Just take one step after another in applying these and try to look at life through a child’s eyes. Therein lies the secret to childlike wonder.