Your life could probably use more wonder. Here’s how to find it

A figure of a person floats in space surrounded by toys and playful objects
You too can learn to appreciate the big and little things that spark awe and childlike wonder.
(Changyu Zou / For The Times)

Good morning. It’s Friday, Jan. 19. I’m Julia Carmel, a West Coast experiences reporter. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Could your life could use more wonder? Here’s how to find it

When was the last time you experienced awe?

For me, it was this morning, as I took a walk around my neighborhood and spotted clusters of yellow flowers atop a two-story-high cactus in a neighbor’s frontyard. I stood there for a second and watched as bees (and one small bird) swarmed around the flowers, thinking about how beautiful it is to watch a plant stretch toward the sun.

This isn’t my natural disposition. But in 2023, I decided to reorient my life around appreciating the big and little things that spark awe and childlike wonder.


It may feel frivolous to focus on small joys when there are plenty of reasons to feel depressed or anxious about the state of the world, but studies have proved that awe can help our mental and physical health. After talking to experts and reframing my own life, I’ve learned this is a skill you can practice easily. (If you want to learn about generating your own childlike wonder in all sorts of places, I’ve written a guide that can be found here.)

This pursuit of awe introduced me to Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, who recently published “Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.” As an expert on emotions, he has found plenty of reasons we should prioritize them.

“Awe is an emotion that you feel when you encounter vast things that are mysterious,” Keltner explained. “Wonder is what follows awe. It is a mental state, less-so an emotion. It’s just a mental state where you’re curious and wanting to explore and discover.”

And with more than 25 years of research under his belt, he has been able to determine eight wonders of life: moral beauty (witnessing the virtue of others); collective effervescence (often experienced in large groups like those at weddings, rallies or sporting events); nature; music; visual design (beautiful buildings, paintings and the like); spiritual and religious experiences; life and death; and epiphanies.

Appreciating these moments can generally shrink our sense of self and help us lead happier lives.

“I started to think about the problems associated with too much self-focus — depression, rumination, anxiety, shame, self-harm, suicide, body image issues,” Keltner said. “Here’s an emotion that frees us of that, and gets us to see how we’re a part of much larger things.”


And there are plenty of other experts who will advocate for the importance of awe, wonder and play. Catherine L’Ecuyer, author of “The Wonder Approach,” emphasized the importance of appreciating the people we see on a daily basis.

“We adults tend to get used to the beauty of the world and take it for granted,” L’Ecuyer said.

This pursuit of childlike wonder also led me to Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, who has been studying play since 1966. Throughout the years, he has interviewed thousands of people — “from Nobel laureates to murderers” — to map out their play patterns.

And though play is just one piece of this existential puzzle, maintaining a healthy sense of playfulness can make it much easier to access awe.

“From birth to death, [play is] a part of being human,” Brown told me. “But when it’s not experienced, there are consequences. And the consequences are mild depression, or an outlook that’s not optimistic and not creative and not innovative.”

There are many ways to open your life up to more awe and wonder, such as Keltner’s daily awe walks, during which he slows down to appreciate the things growing around him.


But even if that’s not your cup of tea, finding awe can be simple. Maybe you’ll find yourself appreciating the beauty of a delicious home-cooked meal, or the joy of having a spontaneous conversation with the person standing next to you in line at the grocery store.

If you’re curious to learn more about how we can create more wonder-filled lives, the whole step-by-step article is here. I’d also love to hear from you — tell me about something (or someone) that made you feel a bit of awe and wonder recently. It’ll definitely make me smile.

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For your downtime

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And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.

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Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Julia Carmel, West Coast experiences reporter
Elvia Limón, multiplatform editor
Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor
Laura Blasey, assistant editor
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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