Must-Read Professional Book Series: Thrive by Arianna Huffington Part Three: Wonder

Can you think of a time something stopped you in your tracks, transported you to hidden worlds, and gave you a glimpse of the fathomless mystery of life? If so, you were experiencing wonder. And we need more of it in our lives!

Welcome to the third in a 4-part series recapping Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.

I recommend Thrive to my clients and anyone else who wants to experience career-changing breakthroughs.

Basically, I read this book so you don’t have to – although I recommend you do! Ready for your recap? Let’s jump in!

Arianna reminds us in the chapter of Thrive called “Wonder” that Einstein once wrote that whoever lacks the capacity to wonder, “whoever remains unmoved, who cannot contemplate or know the deep shudder of the soul in enchantment, might just as well be dead for he has already closed his eyes upon life.” Yes, even the world’s greatest scientists experience wonder.

Arianna walks us through how empirical studies actually back up what songs and sacred texts have always told us about wonder and the meaning of life. The Harvard Grant Study, a 75-year study into the lives of 268 male undergrads beginning in 1938 found that, quite simply, happiness is love. That’s all there is to it.

Why don’t we experience wonder nearly as often these days? One theory is that we’re so busy documenting life we forget to experience it. Fully giving our attention to anything or anyone is precisely what is becoming rare in our hyper-connected world. How ironic is that?

It’s great to take advantage of technology to reach new people and provide platforms for new thoughts and ideas. But technology, Arianna points out, will constantly change, while the need to transcend ourselves (through something like art, for example) never will. Things like music, sculpture, and dance can awaken the sense of wonder that lies inside each one of us.

Silence is under attack.

We’re wired and plugged in, surrounded by 24-hour news cycles, sirens, and music even when we’re in elevators. Arianna shares that there was a time when she’d walk into her apartment or a hotel room and automatically turn on the news. Then one day, she simply stopped. It turns out she didn’t miss it at all! In fact, she got better at listening to her kids, colleagues, and friends.

Whether she’s on a visit to a monastery in Greece or a completely-unplugged staycation, Arianna has noticed in her own life that silence is a big part of regaining that sense of wonder. Without this kind of spiritual renewal, we might only be left with negative experiences to draw from.

Never underestimate coincidence.

If we’re open to it, coincidences pique our curiosity about the nature of the universe and all we don’t know or understand. Something about the combination of improbability, timing, and felicity just feels like magic.

Coincidences are sporadic reminders to maintain our sense of wonder, to stop and allow ourselves to be open to life’s mysteries. Arianna calls them a forced reboot.

Research has shown our willingness to let ourselves experience the wonder of coincidence actually reflects a sense of confidence and ease with life.

If coincidences are a sign that there is meaning in the universe, Arianna points out, then there are consequences for how we live our lives. If there is meaning in the universe, there is also meaning in our daily lives, and we can choose to live in ways that help us align our lives with what matters.

Statisticians can, of course, explain away coincidence as nothing more than an interaction between math and psychology. But Arianna urges us to use the feeling of wonder that comes along with coincidence as a way to maintain a childlike sense of wonder and an appreciation for the mystery of what it means to be alive.

“World Death Rate Holding Steady at 100 Percent.”

The above sentence is a headline from The Onion. It’s also very true!

In Thrive, Arianna doesn’t sidestep the topic of death and its importance in maintaining a sense of wonder about life. Whatever we believe happens to us after we die, it’s hard to argue that death isn’t a stopping point, or at least the end of a chapter.

Here in the West, we tend to sweep death under the rug. But Arianna points out that to truly redefine success, we need to redefine our relationship with death. We’re already fascinated by what people have to say at the end of their lives, with many people expressing that being fully present was the most important thing.

It’s not enough to merely cross paths with death occasionally as you move through your life. Be ready for death as best you can, Arianna says, just as some people prepare and train for a marathon! This mindset alone can help you reset the clock, course correct, build empathy, and gain perspective to improve the days you have left of your life.

Arianna’s action steps for experiencing wonder.

  1. When you feel tense, rushed, or distracted, focus on the rising and falling of your breath for 10 seconds. That helps you become fully present in your life.
  2. When you feel contracted, expand by looking at an image that brings you joy. It might be a photo of your child, a pet, the ocean, or something else that inspires a sense of wonder.
  3. Forgive yourself for any judgments you’re holding against yourself or other people. Then look at the day ahead, and your life, with wonder.