SONDER – n. the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk. (from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows).
My son introduced me to this fascinating word and concept recently. Apparently the word “sonder” has changed from its original meaning (which was ‘to probe’, and in a more specific use, to test the depth of something – which is also a great concept when blogging) but I find the way it’s described above absolutely riveting.
Living for a season away from our hometown and community where I would walk out the door each day knowing that there was a high probability that I would bump into someone I know, it has been freeing to be able to be whoever I want to be each day with no one having any expectations from me to look or act a certain way.
I’ve always loved to people watch, I like to wonder about strangers’ lives when I pass them on the street or sit across from them in a cafe, I make up little scenarios and fit them into it – like a child playing with dolls or cars. But this word Sonder has made me realise that at that very moment that I’m watching one set of people there are many other people, those with elaborate, amazing lives, that I nor anyone else has noticed. I also realised that in fact there is a huge possibility that many around me don’t even realise that I was even in their vicinity.
What a revelation! I am the protagonist only in my own life story!
Imagine being just a background player in someone’s story or life, appearing just the once, momentarily, fleetingly, given no thought to! And then consider the angst we have about what to wear, how we look, what people may be saying about us. Then realise how uselessly we’ve wasted that time and that energy.
In this age of selfies and the constant updating of social media statuses, we are constantly bombarded with the ‘perfection’ of other people’s lives, and fall into the habit of comparing ourselves with others, often feeling like we’re not good enough. I was saying to someone recently that I’m so glad that I am not a young pregnant woman right now in this world obsessed with social media-ready photos. Have you seen those Instagram posts of the stunning young women baring their beautiful round bellies, without an inch of extra flesh – painted and hennaed – presented on the platter of social media for the entire world to see? My self confidence would have taken a battering if I had to compete with that on a daily basis.
The truth is, no one has it all figured out, and everyone is struggling in some way. We go on Facebook and Instagram and only see people’s perfect lives, the filtered photos of faux reality, and we think that everyone has their lives together except us.
But that’s not true. The real truth, as we know, is that people all have good days and bad days and sad days and happy days and days when your hair looks sleek and days when you can’t do a thing with the frizzy mess.
What you most often see is the smile, never the heartbreak. What’s projected as we scroll through our feeds is the perfect, beautifully put together, loving earth mother, never the screaming virago of half an hour ago who eventually gave in to her toddler’s request for donuts for breakfast; the business woman who walks out the door turned out perfectly from her hair to the tips of her expensive shoes, not the one who’s covered up her red puffy eyes after her fight with her husband that morning, the very together and hip parent of a teenager, not the one that stayed up half the night in tears wondering if they were doing the right thing.
I believe that most people’s day to day life is pretty mundane just like our own often is. Unfortunately we just aren’t presented with an accurate picture of it in this new world of saturated colours and filtered reality.
So all we can do is stop being confused by the unreality of our online worlds, concentrate on walking our own path, take the steps we need to take for that day, be grateful for what we have achieved, be true to ourself, live our truth and create our own happiness every single day. Or as Ben would say ‘get real’! Getting ‘real’ is what I’m trying to do on this journey of seeking the joy of less.
Some people do this by reducing screen time and only check their phones once a day or once a week. That’s a great resolution to have, but one that unfortunately I can’t practice at the moment, as I’m starved for information about my family and friends as I’m so far away from home and miss them.
So instead I try to remember that someone out there is probably wishing that they have what I have, thinking that my life is better than theirs. This should make me feel more grateful for what we do have – the life we are currently living – which in turn leads to happiness.
I want to stop wasting time trying to second guess what people think about me. Just imagine – they probably haven’t even noticed me in the background of their life!
“We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” – Ethel Barrett
A video to watch: sonder: everyone has a story
“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Teddy Roosevelt