Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Why We Need to Rediscover Wonder

What do we do with wonder? Do we bottle it up and try to hold on to it? Do we pull out our iPhones and try to share it with the world? Or do we merely bask in its glow?

Recently, I was reading a new book, which addresses this:

One evening I noticed a brushstroke of lime green in the sky growing brighter with each passing moment. I rubbed my eyes as if I’d seen a mirage then looked again. The color appeared to flap in the wind like a loose sail.

“That’s the northern lights,” Leif assured me.

The beauty of the aurora borealis enchanted me. Since that evening, I had spent countless hours peering through the window of our home and returning to the desolate place where the road ends to catch one more glimpse of the beauty that quickened my soul.

Even on the most extravagant evenings, the northern lights had lasted only an hour or two then faded, but on this evening the curtain to the performance never closed. The sky exhaled more hues than I imagined possible, and I found myself caught up in the wonder.

…Even though I lived in Alaska for five years and witnessed the northern lights more than a hundred times, none compared to that night. I still savor the encounter and live in hopeful anticipation of another.

Though we now live at a lower latitude on the outskirts of a major city notorious for its light pollution, on many nights, you’ll still find me scouting the sky in hope of catching another glimpse of the wonder. 

When it comes to wonder, we have a few choices:

We can try to capture it

We can try to hold onto the beauty and the splendor, catching a piece of it with our gadgets and gizmos, even our memories and journals.

But in doing so, we cheapen the thing itself and distract ourselves from being present to the moment.

We can try to reproduce it

Don’t kid yourself: All your tweeting and Instagramming is not the same as watching a sunset. When we catalogue every single memory in photo albums, we’re missing out. We’re not remembering; we’re creating cheap facsimiles of true beauty.

Certainly, these things have their place, but we can’t deceive ourselves into thinking a Polaroid is nearly as good as the original. Can we?

We can enjoy it

Of course, it’s impossible to actually capture or reproduce wonder. The best way to appreciate beauty, I’ve found, is to simply say, “Thank you.” To God or nature or your next-door neighbor. To be grateful for this moment, even if it may be fleeting (sometimes, because of the fact).

As in the excerpt above, there is no guarantee that the mystery of this moment will ever encounter you again. Which is what makes it so special. So relish it.

The next time you’re having a moment — maybe seeing the world through a child’s eyes or smiling at the sight of your town covered in snow — I hope you resist the urge, at least for a moment, to try to capture and reproduce it for the world to see and instead simply enjoy the wonder.

Get the book

The book I quoted above is Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg. It’s a great call to live a life full of faith, awe, and wonder, and it’s on sale this week. Check it out on Amazon by clicking here (affiliate link).

What’s one moment of wonder you’ve recently witnessed? Were you present to it? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Nice post, Jeff.  We can always use a reminder to notice and enjoy “wonder.”  I think as a poet and songwriter I often look at the world with a sense of wonder, but it also seems to become more difficult in our fast-paced, tech-based world.  

    • Agreed. Seems that wonder is no longer a given, but a discipline.

      • Margaraet

        thanks for the great post! may we all learn to live wonderstruck!

  • Here’s an old quote from our good friend C.K. Chesterton: “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” 

    • Margaret

       Love that quote, Bob. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kent Faver

    Interesting to me that the most viral posts, photos or videos often have little to do with anything awesome to behold.  Giving a homeless man shoes, a loopy kid coming off of pain meds, a dog playing with a cat, a baby laughing, these are things we are clearly most awestruck by.

    • Margaret

       A great reminder that God’s awesome wonder can be found in the littlest of things.

  • Eknowles

    Just experienced one this morning. Watched a beautiful sunrise while driving across the state of Georgia. The picture I snapped with my phone didn’t capture the beauty. Sometimes you just have to be there to appreciate it.

    • Margaret

       You are so right, Eileen. The images we capture never fully grasp the beauty.

  • Jeff~You’re speaking to my heart. I’m drafting something on the subject this very morning. When I awoke this morning, I stood still, struck again by snow falling. Those angels literally never cease to amaze and astonish me. (We should talk sometime about wonder, no?)

    • Margaret

      Love to hear what you think about Wonderstruck, Jeffrey. Pure as snow– it leaves me awe-struck, too.

      • You mean Selznick’s book? Love it both in content, form, and structure. Brilliant in so many ways. Two orphan stories colliding with lightning and wonder cabinets. My 3 yr old daughter loves it, too, and I’m taking her to NYC’s Museum of Natural Sci & History soon. Great example.

  • Jeff,

    I love your point about living in and enjoying the moment of splendor.

    But I do think it’s healthy to try and capture the moment as well.  Not for the image or video but for our memory.  All we truly own is in our mind and image can help bring us back to a moment and relive it if only between our ears…

    Great stuff,


    • Margaret

       You’re right, Ryan. Capturing the moment even for our own sake is important– remembering where God wowed us and astounded us in the past leaves me wonderstruck in the moment.

  • Jeff,

    Great post! Often I find myself more excited about sharing the moment I’m in with the world around me than actually enjoying it with the people right beside me. Thanks for reminding me what’s really important.


  • Ahhh– enjoy wonder, definitely.  One of the essential ingredients to wonder is how it sneaks up on you and catches you with a breath of amazement. Keeping one’s heart and eyes open to it is the portal, of course.

  • My daughter and I got the oppertunity to attend a book signing of one of our favorite authors. The anticipation and excitement about a handshake and autograph was only compounded by the crowd and the long wait. We giggled at ourselves and made plans to say something brilliant and impressive in our few seconds with greatness. My daughter, the new fan, I could tell was caught up in the moment as the line grew short. I fumbled with my camera to get a quick moving shot of her shaking hands with Glenn Beck, but it wasn’t till we got to the car that she remembered she even had a camera. I’m so glad she chose to enjoy the moment, and I am also excited I got a picture of her.

  • Dawn Wilson

    I get what you’re saying. Savoring the moment, being “all there,” is powerful for us on so many levels; but part of my enjoyment of the moment is the excitement to share it, too, so I do try to capture it for others (even though they will never experience what I enjoyed).

    A recent case point … a blood-red sunset. I lingered for a moment, astonished at the depth of the color, and then ran for my camera. By the time I returned, yellows had invaded the red… no one would ever  see the deep red tones I saw (my mouth open in a “Wow, God!”), but they loved the photo, nonetheless. It’s a toss-up … do I keep the wonder for myself, or spread it around to others?

    • Good point. I think some moments are meant to be enjoyed and others to be shared. My concern is that in our constantly connected age, we err on the side of over sharing.

  • IJayGordon

    I live in a sprawling senior complex in Fort Lauderdale, where nearly the only children we see is visitors over the holidays. I was hurtling toward the mailbox area, thinking only of what might be in the mail. Coming around the corner, clutching the hand of his mother, was the most adorable toddler I’ve seen in ages. Masses of dark curls framed his face, which he turned to me and broadened his smile as if we were old friends. I knelt to express admiration for the fine teeth in such a young man. His grin got bigger. As he was guided on down the hall and I returned to a standing position, all I could think of is what a wonder a child’s smile is. And how magnificent it is to be responsible for it, however unworthy you might be.

  • I struggle so often with being in the moment. Especially with my kids. I want to take pictures so I can remember the moment, but sometimes, wouldn’t it be so much better to just live in the moment? To really enjoy it? And not be distracted by trying to capture it? Great post. 

    • As new parents, we share the same struggle.

  • I had such a moment spending time with family over Christmas. Just sitting back watching everyone get together for the first time in 2 years was pretty special. 

    • very cool. you’ve led a pretty wonderful year, Kimanzi. here’s to an even better 2013!

  • Recently, this has happened while writing; out of nowhere I’ll remember something from childhood that I had completely forgotten.

  • Enlightening post.  One of the ways that I do capture the moment of being in a special is place is by taking out my sketchbook and doing a quick drawing that captures the essence of the soul of the where I am. 

    This on location hand/brain connection has a way of ingraining in my soul the specialness of where I am.  A special treat for me is being able to share sketches with others.


  • GradCasanova

    Sometimes all you can do is just stare, and forget about everything. My old house had a dock in the backyard and I used to just go out back and admire the beautiful sunset…sometimes for hours at a time. I just would kind forget about everything. It’s wonder. It’s something that’s felt, something that becomes you. It takes you over. It puts things into perspective 

    • man, i’d LOVE to live on the water.

      • EvaPScott

         So, start making plans to get there. :^)

    • Margaret Feinberg

      Love this–oh so true–drinking in the beauty of God. 

  • prophetsandpopstars

    Years ago, I went to a Youth Specialties conference in Nashville and Mike Yaconelli was talking about wonder. He mentioned a book that I read afterward that changed alot of things for me. It’s called A Touch Of Wonder, by Arthur Gordon. It’s just stories of wonder, particularly in the south, which is a kind of wonder I resonate with. 

    Great post, Jeff. You’re thinking like a Yaconelli!

  • the other day when my husband was praying, he expressed that “even our memories fade” — and i thought, “huh?!? isn’t that what we’re going for at christmas?”

    the notion really struck me, & i’ve been chewin’ on it ever since. and your piece here is reminding me to not confuse capturing a moment with being in the moment — even when it comes to my consideration of the memory making. because those lines can get blurred even without a camera or gizmo. but i believe God’s inviting me to discover (or more like remember) that even memories aren’t the point in life. and with all of my imperfections as a wife, mom, friend, & child of God, that reality leaves my soul overflowing with MUCH wonder for sure!

    thanks so much for this, jeff — really appreciated it.

  • Csterken

    Jeff this is powerful …I’m leaving inspired

  • Well said and very inspiring….

  • EvaPScott

    Tonight the full moon barely peeking out with clouds was behind a barren tree.  It looked just like a painting. I never look at full moons with clouds the same since I saw “The Passion of the Christ.” It always brings me back to the garden scene.

  • Love this Jeff. It was only this afternoon I was doing something new with my son. They were wonderful moments. I felt myself heading for my iphone to capture the moment. Instead I basked in the wonder for a little longer than normal. Another wonderful moment was just before Christmas. A blog post I wrote about that is here. https://viewlifeinsideout.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/how-does-milk-in-your-face-make-you-think-about-christmas/
    Thanks for nudging me to cherish the wonder a little bit more. Keep it up.

  • Pmartin0317

    Latest ‘aww’ moment came on Christmas day. I looked out the window and witnessed huge snow flakes falling as if in slow motion. A think floating white curtain fell over Dallas. Snow in Texas is not common and on Christmas day it’s viewed as a miracle.

    • Margaraet

      Love this–so encouraged by the scene and beauty. Go God! 

  • Yeah.  It’s hard to resist.  But you nailed it.  It may sound silly, but I do that with my cats a lot.  Yeah, I know, I’m probably weird.  But I love to take lots of pictures of them when they’re doing something cute.  
    The other day I was hit by the same theme of this post.  Just enjoy it.  So, I just put down my iPhone and watched them, enjoying the moments of the funny things they do.  
    Need to do more of that in all my life events.
    Thanks for sharing this post. 

  • Kelli

    As I sat here pondering, two recent moments of wonder come to mind. The first happened the other day while I was perusing someone’s instagram photos. His nature photography is spectacular. But one photo I particular made me pause and feel the wonder. He may not get that same feeling from the photo because he witnessed the scene, but by shaing his art, he brought wonder to me.
    The second moment was reading the book excerpt contained in this post. Her words brought me wonder.
    I did not miss the point of your post. I’m a yoga instructor, and this is one of the central teachings of yoga: being in the moment. So I have learned to pick and chose, saving some moments of wonder just for me. I believe with my whole heart that my Heavenly Father makes some moments just for me. And he makes some just for you. We are each His favorite kid!

  • It’s not an easy thing to rediscover, that’s for sure. We all seemed to have it as kids, and we can find it in small doses. Certainly helps us all as creatives. Good post!

  • DS

    Is it possible to cross some of the lines here?  

    I try to be in the moment, especially with a 2 yr old and a 4 yr old.  However, there are times where I know I may not see what I am witnessing ever again.  I want to capture it or some semblance of it so that I may review it again.

  • Is it ironic to Tweet this article and share it on Facebook?  

    Oh well.  Gonna do it anyway.  It needs to be shared.  🙂

  • Christine Jeske

    I started thinking about wonder as I went through some writing I’d done when my first child was born.  I decided to blog about the topic last month, and lo and behold, I seem to have stumbled on a hot topic!  But it’s a good topic.  I believe wonder is key to seeing God as he truly is–incomprehensible and full of new mercies every morning.  And how cool it is that God LOVES to be questioned and wondered over.  Enjoy: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ordinaryadventure/2012/11/wonder-ask-more-questions/

    • Interesting. Almost paradoxical. But beautiful, nonetheless.

  • Mgmichlein

    I lived in Iceland for four years or so. The northern lights were fantabulous! I shall never forget them. While there, I also witnessed the terrible power of storm – on the ocean and in the mountains. The wonder of wonders though is my marriage and the two adult children we now have. My spouse and my children have taken me to places I never would have gone alone. What I have experienced as true is that I had to leave the shore very far behind for a very long time to discover new lands. The wonder of surrender – surrendering to the possibilities of what might be if I open myself up to others and the world around me through faith in God and what he has planned for me is the greatest of all. Trust me here. I am much better off when I do not plan my own destiny.

    • Awesome. I think the photo in this post is from Iceland.

  • Awesome post, Jeff. It is so tempting to go through my life with an eye to my camera viewfinder, and not take the time to look up and enjoy the thing itself.

    I had a slightly different take on this subject in a blog post a while back (https://differenthomeschoolgirl.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-world-is-stealing-our-wonder.html) and came to the conclusion that it’s important that we make our own experiences, and not just rely on reading and hearing about other peoples’ adventures. Looking at other people’s photos and reading their stories can make us feel like we’ve had those experiences, but we’re just kidding ourselves and cheapening our future adventures.

    •  Very true, Abigail.  But I like vicariously living through others’ adventures!  🙂  I think we all do.  It’s easy to do, that’s why games and toys and movies are so popular and people can get obsessed.  I think where reading others comes in is when we take the message of these adventures.  But don’t base our lives on these stories.  We can live it ourselves in our own unique way.

      • That is absolutely true! If I couldn’t live through other people’s adventures, I’d go crazy. However, I have the tendency to read and watch other people do amazing things, and never go out and do them myself. That’s going to change in 2013!

  • I go through this all the time.  Where’s my camera?  My phone?  Instead of just thanking God for the moment.  Perhaps there are times we should fast technology as it can sometimes be a greater addiction than food. 
    But also with photography there are times that are very contempletive particularly at night.  While I’m figuring out the right aperture and shutter speed and setting up I can feel the night air, the usual noise is gone and I can feel God’s presence.
    I wrote my own post on wonder a couple months back.  https://tinyurl.com/afm78gl 

  • A petrol blue angry sky at sunset in Dublin. The Irish sunsets are feisty:)

  • Evie

    Hello Jeff, my comment regarding my moment of wonder…my 17 year old child went to the other side of the country to visit for 2 weeks, coastal view, summer sunsets, a really good time to be had. But all the while, I worried more and stressed more instead of  thinking my child was behaving and enjoying this summer the way I would have shared it…though suprised one day a photo text of the western horizon at sunset was sent to my cell phone, from my child, a wonder of creation shared by one of the loves of my life.  That is the amazement of wonder, when I least expected it

  • Thanks for the reminder to stop trying to reproduce what strikes us as wonderful and enjoy it instead.

  • molly

    Hi Krishnan, that’s
    great! I’ve never cited Tolkein beofre but that fits perfectly in the case of
    ‘…but some of my best friends are’.
    ccsvi-mri.co.uk |