Sonder: What It Is And Why It’s Important

In the story of life, each play the starring role in our own blockbuster movie. All other people we encounter are either supporting cast, or merely extras who fill the empty spaces.

At least this is the way it often seems.

The reason for this is not naivety or vanity – we don’t want to think others’ lives are less complex or important than ours. As humans, we simply just don’t have the capacity to see everyone else’s story all the time. We have evolved to survive, which means looking out for our own self first, and others second.

This theory may be credible; however, life has become much different than it was when our brains evolved. The majority of our basic needs are met without having to think about them, and we now have the capacity to expand our horizons and see beyond our own life.

The act of truly comprehending that everyone lives a life as complex as one another is akin to trying to imagine what’s on the other side of a black hole. It truly expanded my mind and made me feel something – something I couldn’t quite put words to; until I heard about The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.

From the website, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is “a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language – to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for”.

And, you guessed it, Koenig found a way to define the emotion I have been trying to describe:

n. the realization 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.

Koenig is truly a master at deciphering the human experience. In addition to his dictionary, I would strongly suggest checking out Koenig’s line of video’s. The video on sonder is a meditative experience that will make you think and feel. Your next stop should then be his 2017 Ted Talk.

Sonder provides a perspective shift that is both daunting and beautiful which allows life to be viewed through a slightly different lens.

4 Ways Sonder Has Changed My Perspective

  1. Reduced Anxiety

    My own worries seem trivial when compared to the vastness and complexity of factors at play. To realize that others have stresses as seemingly large and complex as my own takes the weight off. We all share this commonality and are all in it together.

  2. Increased Awareness

    I now try to pay attention to those “extras” in my life, knowing that I may only see them once, and that one encounter may be a key life moment. In line with this, I also pay extra attention to my presentation to the world. I want to give all of those chance encounters my best shot, and exude the positive energy I hope to receive in return.

  3. Increased Compassion

    I feel strong compassion for others when I realize I don’t actually know what they are going through, but they are going through something that only they may understand.

  4. Increased Confidence

    Realizing that everyone is dealing with a situation that only they understand demystifies people society has given power to – business moguls, actors, singers, and presidents all have an inner voice not much different than my own. This perspective equips me with a new sense of confidence in social situations.

We are all just an extra in someone else’s movie, perhaps only appearing once in an entire lifetime. Keep this in mind next time you are on a train or in a coffee shop, and you just may be able to put perspective to your own priorities.

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  • Shane Gryzko

    Love this! It reminds me of a Raptitude article (

    He talks about his “new habit of becoming a secret ally to a given stranger the moment I notice I’m tempted to become his secret enemy… Not only does it make that particular instance a much more positive and enjoyable interaction for me, but it’s quickly lightening up my overall relationship to strangers, even to the entire species.”

    • Jordan

      Oh I love that! What an interesting concept!!

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