Tracking Wonder: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning and Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity (2021) is an inspiring and practical exploration of wonder. Through reclaiming that childlike state of amazement with the world, Davis shows how we can become happier, healthier, and more creative.
Who is it for?
- Those experiencing burnout
- Anyone fed up with toxic productivity
What’s in it for me?
When’s the last time you allowed yourself to be transfixed by the moon?
Or the last time you marveled at the uncanny eloquence of a six-year-old?
Or even just stopped to appreciate the elegant design of a really well made chair?
I’m talking about wonder, that simple but profound feeling of joyful amazement at life.
In our productivity-obsessed world, chances are, it’s been a while since you’ve stopped and smelled the roses. We all have an innate capacity for wonder, but too often it’s suppressed for the sake of our to-do list, or written off as a childish waste of time.
But that’s holding us back. Wonder plays a big role in sparking innovation, in motivating us, and in helping us find peace in an increasingly chaotic world.
Wonder itself may be fleeting, but its results endure, and it is something we all can re-learn and develop. These summaries invite you to re-open yourself up to that innate capacity we all share, and rediscover the childlike amazement at all that life has to offer.
We’ll explore how our reconnecting with our sense of wonder can help us live more creatively, deepen our relationships, and build our resilience. We’ll do so by following the author’s lead and learning how to “track” wonder– that is, tapping into it with everyday practices you can start with today.
Bringing wonder into our lives can lead to rich fulfillment, creative expression, and better relationships.
Let’s start our exploration of wonder in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream game reserve.
It’s a place known for its lush rainforests and gorgeous lake views, but it’s most famous for being the place where Jane Goodall made groundbreaking discoveries about chimpanzees, like how they use tools and have many social behaviors similar to humans.
Some time later, another scientist observed something else extraordinary about chimps— something not as well known, but perhaps equally compelling.It all started when a particular chimp caught the attention of evolutionary biologist Harold Bauer. This mature male chimp had detoured away from the food-foraging area and wandered through thick forest to a 25-foot waterfall. It was magnificent to behold, spraying mist for seventy feet in the dense green forest. There, the chimp sat, simply staring. Suddenly, he leaped up to pound his fists on the trees and hoot.
The next day, he did it all again—and again the next day. He’d sit and gaze, run up to the waterfall, sometimes rock back and forth, and hoot.
The chimpanzee’s behavior was puzzling. After all, the waterfall didn’t provide food, and it wasn’t a main source of water either. In fact, it was completely out of the way from their food sources. What was going on with this ape?
It appeared that, since the waterfall provided no material value to the chimp, that it was like doing nothing more than contemplating the waterfall’s beauty. Soon the researchers noticed other chimps marveling at the waterfall as well.
Renowned anthropologist Marcus Konner posits that these behaviors in chimpanzees suggest that our own tendency to wonder at the beauty of life is something ancient and fundamental, something deeply hardwired into what it means to be human.
When we contemplate a sight of power and beauty, like a 25-foot waterfall, it can lift us out of ourselves and into a higher, and objectively better, state of mind. And that state of mind is a sense of wonder.
Like the chimpanzee’s mysterious connection to the waterfall, your own sense of wonder might not have any outwardly practical use. But, as we’ll find, pausing work to make time for wonder can paradoxically make you more productive by opening you up to approach challenges creatively.
Let’s get into how exactly we do that, by “tracking” our wonder. It’s the practice of tapping into our innate capacity for wonder by developing its facets: openness, curiosity, hope, and admiration.
Developing our openness enriches our lives and brings us closer to our goals.
German poet Goethe wrote that “naïveté is the most important attribute for genius.” More than your IQ, it is your ability to be open to things that can most effectively guide you to creative expression. Goethe may have agreed with Davis in his celebration of the first facet of wonder: openness.
To begin, let’s look at an example of creative business success that came as the result of openness.
Carey Smith, who manufactured rooftop sprinklers, decided to venture into a new business that he didn’t know anything about: making giant fans. He named his company HVLS Fans, which stood for High Velocity Low Speed. Not so catchy, is it?
When potential customers called, they didn’t ask for the company by name, but instead whether Smith was the person who made the “big ass fans.” Deciding to keep his mind open, Smith embraced this and renamed the company Big Ass Fans. The name stuck, and his business thrived during the Great Recession while his competitors lagged behind. It was the fact that Smith was open to a new business venture and embraced an unusual name that led him to succeed. He stepped into that space of ignorance, put away his fear, and allowed himself to be open again.
Entering that space where you don’t know the answers and actually striding through it towards new discoveries may not come naturally to all of us. But we can nurture this facet of openness with concrete, everyday actions. Listen to others. Ask questions. Embrace a hobby. Visit a new place once a month; seek out those people who you know will challenge you with new ideas.
Here’s another exercise you can test out. Go to a place where you can see the horizon. Take a moment for gratitude, acknowledging the good you have in your life at the moment. Then, look at the horizon and daydream about the things you can do to reach that horizon, which symbolizes your ultimate dreams. Think about the work you can do to get there and ask yourself what you can create to get there.
The curiosity facet of wonder opens us up to new possibilities.
Like openness, curiosity is a facet of wonder that we had no trouble accessing when we were children. But curiosity is another facet of wonder that’s often squashed. As adults, we’re taught that curiosity killed the cat, and that it’s often better to not ask questions.
But psychologist Todd Kashdan points out that people with more curiosity have higher levels of “life satisfaction, wellbeing, and meaning.” And Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, observed that those who read literary short stories with ambiguous endings have minds that stay more open, presumably because they have to use their curiosity to speculate about a variety of possible outcomes.
Questioning the everyday is an accessible way we can all tap into our capacity for wonder. But it works best when curiosity is deployed for its own sake and not in a transactional way. Some of the most successful businesses and life-altering scientific discoveries happened just this way, because someone asked why, or how, or how come— not “what can I get out of this?”
So how do we go about cultivating our curiosity? In a notebook, write “Today I am curious about…” and reflect on what has recently “rung a bell” of curiosity within you. Write or draw it!
Or start collecting unusual objects that spark wonder within you. In sixteenth-century Europe, people had cabinets of curiosities in which they put things like peacock feathers, exotic beetles, and other things that fascinated them that they had collected from far and near. Create a curiosity cabinet for yourself. It doesn’t have to be an actual cabinet; a bulletin board or a tray on which you deposit your own curiosities can serve just as well to help you unlock the facet of curiosity within you.
The facet of hope fuels achievements and facilitates connection.
One of wonder’s most powerful facets is its ability to inspire hope within us.
Naturalist Nikki van Schyndel was rowing in a longboat off the coast of Vancouver, Canada, with her partner when a squall hit them. Hurriedly, they pulled up onto a rocky inlet, but realized that being so cold and wet, they were in very real danger of hypothermia. So the pair decided to get back into the water and keep rowing. It was pouring, they were freezing, and things looked dire.
But as they rowed, they began to notice neon-green sparks shining in the water where their oars struck. Despite their physical discomfort, they were captivated by what they saw, and the wonder of it elevated them into a state of almost magical hope. As they paddled home to safety, the beauty of the rare bioluminescent algae gave their terrified brains something to marvel at and distract them from being dangerously cold and soaking wet.
Hope has so many benefits. Recent studies correlate hopeful people with significant achievement in academics, greater physical stamina than average, and high self esteem. And it makes sense if you think about it. If you’re a hopeful person, then you have the personal agency to plan for a goal and the mental fortitude to go after it.
Apathy is the enemy of hope. It’s important to stay focused on things that interest you. Set a goal, then take a 15-minute walk to figure out small actions that will help you get there, what some obstacles might be and how to overcome them. A goal can be as far-reaching as climbing a mountain or starting a new business. It can also be as simple as reading a book within a certain amount of time. Either way, hoping for that outcome is one huge step to reaching the goal.
Staying hopeful gives you purpose. When the musician Nick Cave tragically lost his 15-year-old son in an accident, Cave and his wife could find no solid ground to stand on for a while. Then, deciding to lift himself out of despair, Cave created the Red Hand Files. It’s a website where anyone from anywhere can ask Nick Cave any question they like. Cave responds with heartfelt letters that connect him with readers all over the world. It’s a meaningful endeavor that uses the facet of hopefulness to lift us out of life’s darkest moments.
Not only is Cave using the wonder of hope to lift himself, he’s also sharing that hope with others.
Admiration allows you to reflect the wonder in others and see the wonder of yourself.
Last, but certainly not least, is the facet of admiration.
In the context of wonder, Davis describes it as experiencing “a surprising love for someone else’s excellence that can awaken us to become better at what we do and how we do it.”
This doesn’t mean to slavishly adore or to defer to someone else in some way. Rather, it means to truly appreciate something amazing about them, and share it with them. Now, this may be hard to do. If you’ve just spent a day balancing your checkbook and finding your account overdrawn, it might be hard to feel admiration for a friend who has just posted photos from his adventurous vacation on Instagram.
Envy can be an ugly thing. It can lead to us secretly celebrating other people’s failures. But Davis advises that to truly feel wonder in another’s accomplishment, flip a switch on envy. Instead of wanting them to fail, ask yourself what specific parts you admire and how you can inspire yourself to achieve that too. Instead of saying, “I’m so sick of Grace’s vacation pics,” admit that you love the idea of adventure travel too. You don’t want to be Grace or take over other aspects of her personality; you just want to travel to exciting places. Once you’ve recognized this, you can begin taking steps, such as acquiring a second stream of income, that can help you reach that goal, and in the meantime, continue admiring Grace’s choices. One very simple way to launch yourself into this mindset is to compliment or congratulate others. Go post on Grace’s social media: “Awesome photos! I love how you taught yourself to rock climb!”
Don’t just stop at the people who you admire– seek out the people who they admire! Grace may follow a backpacking tour guide who has been to the farthest reaches of the world. You can read up on that person’s achievements and learn from them as well. Davis describes it as the mirror effect: two lit up mirrors facing each other and lighting each other up. And if someone reaches out to you and compliments you – bask in the wonder of that appreciation too!
In these summaries, you’ve learned about how accessing wonder can be a means of getting in touch with that curious, open child version of yourself that can help you reach new heights as an adult. By learning how to track four facets of wonder – curiosity, openness, hope, and admiration – you can aspire to better relationships and expressions of your own creativity.
About the author
Jeffrey Davis is a writer and branding consultant who heads up a creative team at Tracking Wonder Consultancy. He speaks at conferences and universities, and is also the author of The Journey from the Center to the Page and two poetry collections.
Jeffrey Davis works with innovators, professionals, writers, scientists, and social psychologists, offering him leading insights into the creative process. He is a sought-after speaker who presents at conferences, universities, and centers nationwide. Founder of Tracking Wonder Consultancy, he works with organizations and individuals to advance their best ideas and best lives with integrity and wonder. He lives with his family in the Hudson Valley of New York.
Health, Psychology, Counseling, Productivity, Self Help, Personal Success, Creativity, Personal Growth
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 Flames
CHAPTER 2 Biases Against Wonder
CHAPTER 3 The Six Facets of Wonder Your Young Genius
CHAPTER 4 Openness, the Wide-Sky Facet
CHAPTER 5 Curiosity, the Rebel Facet
CHAPTER 6 Bewilderment, the Deep Woods Facet
CHAPTER 7 Hope, the Rainbow Facet
CHAPTER 8 Connection, the Flock Facet
CHAPTER 9 Admiration, the Mirror Facet
CHAPTER 10 Stand in Wonder
Five Wishes of Wonder for This One Life
About the Author
Discover how the lost art of wonder can help you cultivate greater creativity, resilience, meaning, and joy as you bring your greatest contributions to life.
Beyond grit, focus, and 10,000 hours lies a surprising advantage that all creatives have―wonder. Far from child’s play, wonder is the one radical quality that has led exemplary people from all walks of life to move toward the fruition of their deepest dreams and wildest endeavors―and it can do so for you, too.
“Wonder is a quiet disruptor of unseen biases,” writes Jeffrey Davis. “It dissolves our habitual ways of seeing and thinking so that we may glimpse anew the beauty of what is real, true, and possible.” Rich with wisdom, inspiring stories, and practical tools, Tracking Wonder invites us to explore how the lost art of wonder can inspire a life of greater joy, possibility, and purpose. You’ll discover:
- The six facets of wonder―key qualities to help you cultivate the art of wonder in your work, relationships, and life
- How wonder can help us fertilize creativity, sustain the motivation to pursue big ideas, navigate uncertainty and crises, deepen our relationships, and more
- The biases against wonder―moving beyond societal and internalized resistance to our inherent gifts
- Why experiencing wonder isn’t really about achieving goals―though that happens―but about how we live each day
- Inspiring stories of people whose experiences of wonder helped them move through the unthinkable to create extraordinary lives
- Practical exercises, tools, and reflections to help you begin your own practice of tracking wonder
A refreshing counter-voice to the exhausting narrative hyper-productivity, Tracking Wonder is a welcome guide for experiencing more meaning and joy in the present moment as you bring your greatest contributions to life.
Do you yearn for more meaning, connection, and the ability to respond to life’s curveballs more creatively than reactively? If so, you’ve likely found that hard work, material success, and even years of expertise often aren’t enough. What stands in the gap between your busyness and a life filled with cherished moments?
For years, Jeffrey Davis has researched, interviewed, and worked with luminaries across cultures and professions to answer that question. What he’s identified is a single universal experience that opens us to creative awakening across all walks of life: wonder.
Here, this acclaimed teacher, consultant, and speaker invites us to discover how wonder dissolves our rigid ways of seeing and thinking, allowing us to glimpse anew what is true, beautiful, and possible–and how to then bring our insights to fruition. Rich with wisdom, real-life stories, and practical guidance, Tracking Wonder shows you how to
- Bring forward your childlike wonder
- Disrupt default mental habits to stay open to possibility
- Fertilize confusion into curiosity
- Navigate uncertainty and crises with creative resilience
- “Unbox” other people to deepen your connections, and gift them with wonder
- Fine-tune your daily process and flow, and much more (less)
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview
Track six facets of wonder to reclaim a life of meaning and possibility.
- Openness: Boost your creative approach to life and work by knowing when and how to suspend biases and to dare to un-know.
- Curiosity: Pursue discovery, honor the quirky things that interest us, and keep learning.
- Bewilderment: Harness the restless energy of profound uncertainty to redefine your purpose.
- Hope: Create a buoyant feeling of possibility amid uncertainty.
- Connection: Practices of connection teach us that we are often better when we do it together.
- Admiration: A reminder on how to see ourselves as sources of wonder for others.
Curiosity Practice: Be Rung with What You Care About
Center—Find a quiet place at a time of day when there are few distractions around you. Bring your attention to your breath.
Ask Yourself, “What have I been curious about for a long time?”—“What do I want to investigate?” Listen to your inner voice. What’s “ringing” within you? Sometimes one or more words will float past your attention like candidates in a contest. Sometimes an image will surface.
Write down or draw whatever gets your attention but do so slowly—Do it as if each line you’re writing or sketching were a step closer to a bell ringing from a forest that calls you out of your living room or office. Let this slow writing or slow drawing help you follow your internal signals as to what you and only you might be curious about.
“[a] buoyant debut…for those who need an injection of hope in an overwhelming world, Davis offers a well-drawn road map to discovering wonder and, quite possibly, joy.” – Publishers Weekly
“In our experience, curious wonder is the foundation of lifelong growth. It allows us to retain a beginner’s mind even as our wisdom expands. It permits our hearts and minds to grow stronger, not just older, every day. Tracking Wonder is an invaluable guide for honing our curious minds and growing into our strongest selves.” – Marc and Angel Chernoff,New York Times bestselling authors of Getting Back to Happy, 1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently, and 1000+ Little Habits of Happy, Successful Relationships
“We’re born in a state of wonder, abandon it in the name of adulting, then spend the rest of our lives aching to get back to it. Tracking Wonder is a wake-up call, bundled with a road map home to that elusive place inhabited by the potential for serendipity, surprise, and magic in every nook, corner, and conversation.” – Jonathan Fields, award-winning author of Sparked and host of the Good Life Project podcast
“In these most complex times, Jeffrey Davis’s book will feel like an epiphany in its reading, opening your mind and heart to that most vital of human strengths―wonder.” – Dacher Keltner, PhD, professor of psychology, UC Berkeley, and founding director of the Greater Good Science Center