To ‘Sonder’ The Fascinating Reality of Lives Around Us

When we were asked to write this piece for Austrian Philosophy, we immediately paused to think about how many pages of the internet we would need to fill – it was a bit of a you’re going to need a bigger boat moment – yes, we also promised to get a random Jaws reference in there somewhere.

Fortunately though, with a bit of careful thought and inspiration from a variety of sources, we think we’ve taken a good crack at it and in the process, have hopefully delivered something of interest.

The word Sonder derives from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, it’s classified as an invented word by John Koenig, it’s use is not widespread but it is incredibly poignant and relevant to us all – a word which although is little known, represents a feeling that is widely experienced.

To sonder generally means to realise that other people are living their own lives around us. Lives that are equally as complex as our own, each with their own difficulties, hurdles to cross and packages of joy to unravel.

It is, in other words, the realisation that although the strangers around us are a mere extra in our own story, a stranger drinking coffee in the corner of the cafe or a an office worker searching for deposit offers whilst riding the morning commuter train. Each of these people are in that moment living their lives, experiencing their own highs and lows, which may originate from similar or totally different places to your own.

The actual word sonder is intriguing in itself, in the English language prior to its use for the purpose we’re explaining, there was a gap in the dictionary, whilst in the German language, the word is an adjective which means ‘special’. In France, the French know the word as verb which has he meaning ‘to plumb’ whereas in Afrikaans it means ‘Without’.

What we particularly like about this word is how it fills a gap. We think that just as there have been for us, each and every person reading this piece will be able to resonate with a moment when they themselves have had a moment of sonder – possibly coming from a place of daydream, a moment when our curiosity has been let off the leash and we’ve had time to observe for a brief moment, the people who surround us.

The final fascination of the word sonder, is how it should be formulated for use. In other words, how should it sit within a sentence? Should it be a verb or an adjective or even both?

At Austrian Philosophy we’re of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter. The real interest and beauty of this word is in its meaning to each and every individual, we don’t think that’s a lazy copout and we hope you’ll agree.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this piece and hopefully you’ve learned a new word and far more importantly, a new concept. As a parting gift we’d like to set you up to bring sonder into your own lives, maybe by remembering a phrase such as ‘Everyone I pass lives a life I cannot easily see’, or by writing the word sonder in your diary once a week – both of these are suggestions from The Practical Psych.