Every one of us will at some point in our lives ask the ultimate existential question “Why am I here?”. It’s in our nature to believe that we should have a purpose since everything around us seem to have a purpose.
Over the years, I have come to accept that my individual life might not have a purpose other than to reproduce and create a bit a genetic variation to keep the human race going. However, in this emptiness, I am left with an opportunity to create the life I want and create my own purpose.
So, what do I want in life?
When I was younger, I thought I wanted to maximize happiness. But pure happiness and joy seemed fleeting and lacked the satisfaction of building something lasting. Then, I thought achievement and fulfillment should be my goal, but that promoted workaholism and ended up creating dissatisfaction because there could always be more to achieve. Next, I looked to my relationships and social circles, but as people enter and leave my life, there is feelings of abandonment and loneliness. Not one of these goals completed me. I seem to want all of them.
Then one day, it hit me while attending a personal development workshop called VIEW. The “W” stands for “Wonder”, a word I rarely used in my vocabulary. Suddenly things started to click.
Wonder was the actual feeling I wanted most in my life. It encapsulates happiness, accomplishment, and social connectivity. It is the reason I do the work I do and it happens when I learn something new. It comes in different forms and comes in all forms. Wonder is the magic I feel looking at impressive art at Burning Man. Wonder is discovering a stranger knows my high school best friend. Wonder is the creative energy in a new relationship or new project where the possibilities are endless. Wonder is the awe in a child’s eyes as they see an object for the first time. Wonder is curiosity that doesn’t need to have an answer.
As children, we were all full of wonder. We leaned towards our curiosities as we discovered new objects in the world. But as we mature and our logical centers are developed, we become cautious, conforming, and critical. We could predict what happens and new things are to be avoided. This makes sense because the role of adults are to protect the irrational children from danger. But this mentality in our modern workaholic society has caused adults to feel protective, self-righteous, isolated, and like monotonous drones at times. We rapidly forget that there is wonder in the world, and worse, we stop trying.
Once I started making a conscious effort to see the world through wonder, everything started to be more beautiful. Colorful murals in alleyways catch my attention. I appreciate the cloud shapes in the sky. I soak up the joy of watching friends converse at a party. These moments give me joy and the joy is unlimited.
I realized that wonder was what I wanted all along. However, previously I thought wonder was rare and that it was external. I thought my partner or friends were going to “give” me moments of wonder. I went to events hoping that someone would say something I found interesting. This is not how it works. Only I can experience a particular thing as wonderful. While external factors may influence my experience, it is ultimately I who decide whether something creates wonder inside me. This realization gave me a sense of power, even a super power.
As with many super heroes, these powers are kept secret. No one needs to share in my wonder for it to be valid. No one even needs to know. I have struggled with self-identity and self-confidence issues all my life, but thinking in this framework has given me both. I feel like I can fully express myself, while not needing to express myself at the same time.
Lastly, living a life of wonder has made me more resilient to challenges and negative thoughts. When I let myself fully explore my curiosities, I do better work towards the things I care about, I have better connections with people, and I don’t let momentary setbacks hinder my self-image. I let go of conflicts with others because it detracts my energy that could be better allocated towards wonder, and I become more empathetic thinking that others might just want to live in wonder too. I let go of the fear of abandonment because I know I will have an abundance of wonder in my life and I am okay thinking that others will find their wonder without me.
Maybe this is what it means to be zen. I was never good at meditation because my mind needs something to fixate on. Wonder might just be the thing I’ve been searching for.