Why do we lose our sense of wonder and imagination?

How many times did you hear growing up from your parents or other people around to grow up? The secret is to learn the difference between childish and childlike.

Dec 19, 2021
5 min read

I heard it very often: "Grow up! You are childish." They roasted me many times out there. And life became boring. But here is the truth, we can never actually lose our sense of imagination as human beings.

Childish commonly means silly or immature. This adjective usually (but not always) points to unfavorable qualities. Childlike means trusting or innocent, and it refers to the more positive or favorable qualities of a child.

The painting

Yesterday, my son brought me a painting he created on a small canvas. He asked me if I recognise what was in the picture. Many elements were pretty clear to me, but he let me guessing around 5 minutes after I gave up. I couldn't figure out the last part.

And then it hit me. When I was a kid, I rarely had any problems to recognise what other classmates drew or painted. After that, I thought how come?

Let's look at the painting together. It's very clear that you can see a volcano spewing lava. Below by the edges, you can see flames. But can you see anything else and if yes - what is it?

If you can certainly say what else is in the picture, then congratulations, you are far better than me. I knew there was something there, just had no clue what it was.

Childish or childlike

Here is the thing that many people got wrong about me and you probably have the same experience. I wasn't childish, but I was childlike. I was responsible, but I could see things through children's eyes. When I was reading a book, the pictures - my imagination - were more clear, now all are blurred. You see, being childish means being immature, but being childlike means having the ability to see the wonders.

But all of this is like a circle. As we, adults, tend to forget the difference between these two words, we use them incorrectly towards young people or children.

Basis for comparison Childish Childlike
Meaning Childish refers to a behavior in which a person acts in an foolish and annoying way. The word 'childlike' indicates good qualities of a child, such as honesty, sweetness, purity etc.
Indicates Immaturity Innocence
Implication Negative Positive
Example That's totally childish, isn't it - for a woman of 50 years? We are looking for a girl with childlike face.
He is too childish. A childlike sweetness attracts everyone.
Don't be so childish - behave maturely. She has a childlike trust on her father.

But then what's the problem?

As we grow up, we actually learn to give our imagination lesser value and space. It's like with organs, the ones you use more get more powerful with time and the ones that you use less get weaker. So simply our imagination and feeling for wonder weakens due to the lack of use.

But this is not explaining how we came to the state that we lack these skills or they are weakened. And here comes the "mistake" of society, parenting, etc. They taught us to prioritize materialistic things over abstract things such as imagination and pure beauty of wonder. We quickly make the choice to put things like imagination aside to focus on the "more serious things in life". We assume we know how things work and are unimpressed, but in reality we just label, number and categorize things and consider that the proper sense of understanding.

We are also overly entertained and overly work oriented. Work, entertainment, more work, more entertainment. Social media activity kills creativity, motivation and the ability to enjoy small things in high dosage.  

It's never too late

Think back to when you felt that sense of wonder. If you believe you can get it back, then you once had it and you remember. If you have put the skill into a box somewhere up in the attic, you can still go for it and unpack it. It will take some time, trying and failing to figure out how to use that skill again. The idea of being childish is just not true. Even Albert Einstein recognised how important the imagination is.

Solutions to bring it back

It wouldn't be a plausible analysis without providing a solution.

Spend more time with children

Spend quality time with children, play their games. Sit and find the shapes in clouds. Build a kingdom in the forest and pretend to be fairytale people. Or just lay down in the grass and imagine who would you like to be as a superhero.

Slow down and notice the little things and discuss widely how they came to be. Make up a story about how a bee or a zebra got painted body. Stop running after your goals for a little and go back to your childhood.

This is two-year-old Malki, her name means Queen in Yiddish. We were at the park playing with paint and bubbles and this shot was a remarkably lucky one since toddlers move so fast. This photo is important to me because it captures her innocence and reminds me how happy and carefree I was that day, hanging out with her.
Photo by Senjuti Kundu / Unsplash

Spend time alone

Reserve a time just for yourself. Eliminate any distractions. Yes, and that means putting away your phone, no social media activities and no interacting with another person. Meditating can also help. No animal allowed as well for this moment. It just have to be completely you as the only companion.

Start with one idea or question. Everyone's brain works differently and we all focus on different things, so choose ideas that are topics you enjoy or are comfortable with them.

I personally like to ask below:

  • what if the book would end differently?
  • what if the one scene from the movie would be removed?
  • what if I could choose one magical git, etc.?

Another thing you can do is to choose one object around you. This item shouldn't be related to your personal or professional life. For example, you can choose a bottle of juice or the book cabinet. Imagine the most probable past and future of that item in the most detailed way that is possible.

So I want you to imagine all events that happened before and what events might come afterwards. It is like writing a biography of the bottle along with predicting the future.

This activity will strengthen your power to imagine stories and events in your head, force your mind to explore unknown places and ideas within your imagination. Of course, this will not happen overnight, it will take time and patience.  

But you must be consistent and give this a chance every day for few minutes.

And also go to the nature, travel, get to know other cultures.

So what was in the painting?

***Spoiler alert***

If you want to work more to get your imagination & wonder skills back and you want to check the painting again after a week or two, do not continue. Once I will reveal it, you will always see it there, no matter what.

So simply, it's a dragon. He has a head on the right side and a tail on the left side. You can see he/she is very slim. But that's how kids paint. And if your mind would be more open and more wonder-hunting, then you should be able to see it straight away. As this has nothing to do with how kids draw. If you can see it in the clouds just with basic shapes, then a child's painting should be easy peasy lemon squeezy.

So who is ready go back in time and find the "lost" wonders?

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