The importance of curiosity

Featured, Happiness
woman listening to another woman

I really think that curiosity is one of the most under-estimated beneficial mind sets.

When we are curious, we find life more stimulating and enjoyable. When we are curious, we connect with other people better. When we are curious, life becomes more interesting and less boring.

I like this quote from Robin Sharma

“Aging only happens to people who lose their lust for getting better and disconnect from their natural base of curiosity.”

Maybe he’s exaggerating. Ageing does happen regardless of our mind set, but the speed and depressing nature of it can be restrained by a curious mind set.

Studs Terkel was a Pulitzer-prize winning author best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans. In his memoir, Touch and Go, he wrote that curiosity was the virtue that has kept him going. This idea translated into his funny headstone:

“Curiosity did not kill this cat.”

An article entitled Curiosity: the secret to your success says:

“We tend to dismiss curiosity as a childish, naïve trait, but it can actually give us profound advantages.”

It’s interesting that when I was looking for an image to illustrate this blog, the vast majority showed children or animals being curious. There was also the odd scientist, but otherwise hardly any adults.

Being curious about the world is great for your mental health. I’m always seeking to learn new things. This can mean reading a fiction book set in a place that isn’t familiar or by an author that’s new to me. Researching new vegan recipes or trying to understand a little about football and the latest controversy.

It can mean I want to enrol in an online course and learn something new. MOOCs are a good place to start. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anyone to enrol. They are often taught by academics or experts, who just want to share their passion. You can do a course on the fundamental of statistics or learn more about food and health. Maybe you already speak some Spanish, but you want to learn more.

The easiest way to find a course is to search online using the word MOOC followed by the subject, so for example you would search “MOOC nutrition” or MOOC Spanish”.

The second, and possibly, more important part is being curious about other people and why they think or feel the way they do.
Curiosity is particularly important in this age of polarised views and information bubbles. Do you have friends who are different ages to you? Do you know and interact well with people who have very different political views to you?

It can be difficult, but curiosity can help you. Seek out people whose lives are very different to yours. Be curious about why they think the way they do. Try to understand how they experience life and how they interpret the latest news. Don’t start from the point of trying to change what they think. Start by trying to understand how they see the world and their place in it. This can be hugely stimulating. If done honestly, it will probably encourage you to examine some of your own cherished views and certainties.

When I meet someone new, I’m always interested in understanding how they tick: why a seemingly intelligent person can hold political views completely opposite to mine, or why someone is nervous and without confidence. Most people respond well to this. People tell me I’m a great listener because I pay attention and I’m not judgemental.

I find myself in conversation with people of all ages. I get young people to explain things to me about the modern world that I don’t understand. They really seem to enjoy it. These interactions stimulate my brain and build connections across the generations.

Curiosity can also help us be less judgemental about ourselves. Mindfulness is rightly hugely popular, as a way of managing ourselves better. It can help you sleep better, be more relaxed, be less fearful and more contented. Central to mindfulness is the idea of curiosity – being curious about your thoughts, rather than trying to quell them with criticism and determination.

For example, the Headspace course for mindful eating teaches you to be curious about your relationship with food, to stop and look at your urge to keep eating the tub of ice cream until it is finished. The idea isn’t that you should scold yourself or walk determinedly away from the temptation. In being curious, you are treating yourself kindly. You are also creating the space, where another decision, another behaviour can become the natural reality.

Curiosity can also help us to question the prevalent idea that as we get older we are going to become more passive and weaker. If you’re curious, you won’t accept the view that as you get older you have inevitably to get more frail, more dependent and less yourself.

I love going to the gym and weight training. I’m really curious about how strong I can get. How much weight I can lift.  Medication is seen as a normal part of ageing. I’m in my seventies. When I went for an eye check-up recently, the optician said: “Any changes in medication?” The implication was clearly that I would be already taking medication. He looked surprised when I said: “No I’m not taking anything.” I’m curious to see if by looking after my health and well-being I can live my life without needing long-term medication.

Curiosity is ultimately non-judgemental of ourselves and others. It can give us a more interesting life, stimulate the brain and reduce cognitive decline. It can make us a supportive friend. Through curiosity we can seek to bridge the gap between ourselves and those we disagree with. We need a lot more of that in this world of strife and conflict.

I hope I’ve convinced you that cultivating curiosity is a way to enjoy your life more and do your bit in creating a better world for us all.