For children, everything is amazing. This phenomenon is readily observable in the way they move from one thing to the next in a sort of open-mouthed wonder. For them, life is still fresh and exciting, with something new to discover around every corner. This unbridled curiosity is why we cover up electrical sockets, gate our staircases, and hide small, tasty-looking objects whenever these gullible little creatures come around. What if all of our appetites for life could be as ravenous as theirs? What if I said it can?
One of the most significant losses in the transition from childhood to adulthood is the ever-present sense of awe. But although it has withdrawn from our repertoire of everyday experiences, it remains an old friend to each of us.
We find it when the light pollution from our bustling city dims enough and we are seen by the lidless gaze of countless galaxies. If you have ever travelled on the ocean, you may remember a time when you never knew that the world could be so blue. This feeling may even have brought you to your knees once when, at the foot of a mountain, you realized just how close to the ground you’ve always been. These moments are rare and even more rarely sought after.
Today we live in societies that isolate us from ourselves, not to mention those around us. 401ks, Instagram stories, the newest iPhone, and the New York Times all clamor for our attention. In an age where we are inundated with stimuli that remind us how very essential all our decisions are, we can’t help but be intoxicated by our own self-importance. But before you click elsewhere, having deemed this another prudish countercultural manifesto against materialism, perhaps you can be persuaded that regaining that childlike impulse is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
COVID-19 has, of course, already forced us to slow down on a global scale. The loss of life, the massive economic downturn, and the collective rise of our existential angst undoubtedly make this period one of the most difficult our country has ever faced. Yet there has never been a disaster that has not also succeeded in bringing communities closer, helped us value what is truly valuable, and deepened our appreciation for life. This disaster is no different and also has a unique silver lining.
This disaster has reacquainted us with the everyday. While at home, Monday, Tuesday, and all the other days seem to blend together into one indistinguishable miasmic clump. The illusion here is that this hadn’t already been the case in many of our lives before the crisis. We all know what its like to get lost in the rhythms of our schedule, to yo-yo between work and home with an occasional detour on the weekend. The difference then was that everything wasn’t so obviously on rinse and repeat. Now, our homes can at times feel like prisons and the days an eternity.
This is the perfect time to regain the childlike awe we each once had for the ordinary. We have more time than ever to reflect on the many wonders that surround us and how amazing life and the things that fill it are. All you need is a bit of time and a dose of curiosity. Americans are some of the hardest workers in the world, so time feels scarce and we tend to reflect only when we’re paid for it.
COVID-19 has ensured that those of us who are fortunate enough to have a home, now have some spare time to be curious. Finding awe in the mundane is a simple thing, but it can also be life-changing if you let it. It is a willful act of mindfulness that has the capacity to enhance the small moments of your life, deepen your thoughts, and broaden your perspective.
There are many things to consider while doing the dishes, for instance, an otherwise tedious activity. I find myself wondering things like how bubbles form, the evolution of the fork over millennia, and how I can never really truly clean anything without it accumulating billions of microbes the moment I place it in the drying rack. Each of these thoughts take me on an adventure, and at their conclusion I appreciate just how vast and complex the world really is. These thoughts fill me with awe at the many marvels that surround me.
I am awed by the orderliness of the interactions between chemical compounds, the complexities of social etiquette, and the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of ‘clean’ as an idea. When I am awed, I often find myself humbled by the attributes of the thing that I find awesome. And in this space of humility, I find gratitude – that magic ingredient to happiness.
I am grateful that we live in a world where we can manipulate chemical compounds to create the things that we have come to rely upon, like dishwashing liquid and plastic. I am grateful for the ingenuity of the human mind that prompted someone to create a four-pronged utensil for eating. And I am grateful that my brain will not fill me with dread at the idea that nothing I use is ever really clean.
In a society filled with people that are most frequently concerned only with the well-being of themselves and their immediate family, awe has the capacity to broaden our horizons. In the richest nation in the world that takes running water for granted, awe has the capacity to fill our hearts with gratitude. During the greatest technological revolution humanity has ever known, wherein some wonder whether we can one day defy death and make ourselves immortal, awe checks our expansive impulses and reminds us that our domain is the present moment.