4. Places We Go When it’s Beyond Us

Awe, Wonder, Confusion, Curiosity, Interest, Surprise

Awe and Wonder

Wonder inspires the wish to understand; awe inspires the wish to let shine, to acknowledge and to unite.

When feeling awe, we tend to simply stand back and observe, “to provide a stage for the phenomenon to shine.”


The concept of optimal confusion is key to understanding why confusion is good for us and why it’s categorized as an epistemic emotion—an emotion critical to knowledge acquisition and learning.

Too much confusion can lead to frustration, giving up, disengagement, or even boredom.


Surprise is an interruption caused by information that doesn’t fit with our current understanding or expectations. It causes us to reevaluate.

We can think of surprise as “a bridge between cognition and emotion.” But it’s a short bridge! Surprise is the shortest-duration emotion, rarely lasting more than a few seconds.

Surprise is also an amplifier for subsequent emotion, with more surprising events resulting in stronger emotional reactions.

Curiosity and Interest

Curiosity is recognizing a gap in our knowledge about something that interests us, and becoming emotionally and cognitively invested in closing that gap through exploration and learning.

Interest is a cognitive openness to engaging with a topic or experience.

With interest, our mind is open to seeing what’s there, but with curiosity, we’ve acknowledged a gap in what we know or understand, and our heart and head are both invested in closing that gap.