“Curiosity killed the cat. It is said that ‘a cat has nine lives,’ yet care would wear them all out.”-Ebenezer Cobham Brewer
Did curiosity killed the cat? To the contrary, evidence indicates that maintaining a sense of curiosity is not only healthy, but is a characteristic of genius. Research indicates that people who are curious live happier, healthier, more productively, and longer than their dull-witted peers. We all had it as a kid, but somewhere along the line the game of life and what we think of as common sense took it from us. Well, scientific evidence says we need to get back. But how?
In 2007, a research survey of more than 10,000 people in 48 countries that was published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Sciences the vast majority of subjects indicated that their number one goal in life was “to be happy.” Happiness outranked money, fame, possessions, or power. My assumption is that you agree, and that, as you are reading this, you’re saying to yourself “Yep, I want to be happy.” What does that mean? How would you know if you were happy? What’s preventing you from having it already? What can you start doing today, immediately, to be happy? Spending a few minutes trying to answer these questions is the beginning of being curious. All studies indicate that, without a sense of curiosity, your pursuit of happiness is doomed to fail. Curiosity is not only a factor in leading a happy, fulfilling life, it is a requirement.
Here are some of the benefits of living life with an inquiring and curious mind:
⦁ It is good for your health. A 1996 study in Psychology and Aging found that adults age 60 to 86 who were rated as more curious at the beginning of a five year study were more likely to be alive at the conclusion. They found that curiosity was a larger factor than anything else including age, cardiovascular health, and previous physical condition.
⦁ It is a characteristic of what we refer to as intelligence. Intelligence is often defined as an ability to respond to novel and unusual situations. This cannot be done without a sense of curiosity. A study done in 2002 of three-year-old toddlers showed that those who were rated high in curiosity grew up to have higher IQ scores than their lower rated peers. By age 11 they had IQ scores on the average of 12 points higher, almost one standard deviation above normal.
⦁ It creates better social relationships and is a critical characteristic in social intelligence. Curious people have more friends, more significant relationships, and are viewed by others more highly. The simple reason is that they are able to convey more of an interest in others, which makes them appear to be kinder, more considerate, and more likable than people who do not have this skill.
⦁ It is important for brain health. In the past 20 years science has realized that the human brain is very malleable and responds well to mental exercise. In fact, our brains can grow new neural pathways throughout the entire life span. Picking up new hobbies, interests, and activities at any age in life is not only fun, but improves brain functioning. People who are curious are more willing to try novel experiences, regardless of age.
⦁ It is in important component of what we call spirituality. All of us at some point or another in our lives have pondered the age old question of “What is the meaning of life?” How we answer that question, and how comfortable we are with that answer, plays a huge role in our life satisfaction. People who are comfortable with their answer tend to be happier, healthier, and more accepting of who and what they are. Getting curious about what Philosophy 101 called the Ultimate Questions can be frightening, but worth it.
⦁ It is a key component in being mindful. Curiosity is a characteristic of all mindfulness-based meditative practices. In meditation, being curious and nonjudgmental is the essence of mindfulness. Accepting physical, emotional, and spiritual feelings and insights in a non-judgmental way is really all that mindfulness is. Mindfulness meditation may just be the most important health practice that you are not yet practicing. There’s really no mystery to it, good meditation and a healthy curiosity are close relatives.
There are many ways that you can get back the curiosity that you once had, or increase what you currently have. It won’t be as difficult as you think, and you will find that it is is a lot of fun. Some practical steps are:
⦁ Ask questions, both of yourself and others. If you are a parent, remember what it was like when your kids were two years old? Almost everything that your child experienced was followed by the question “Why?” This type of simplistic questioning is the first step. Why this is that? How do they do that? Who made that? Where does that come from? How does that thing work? Remembering those questions from your high school class in English composition, who, what, when, where, and how, can help you rekindle your natural curiosity. It can also make you appear to others as a brilliant conversationalist. Ask people these questions, then shut up and listen, and learn to listen carefully.
⦁ Keep your mind open. Be slow to pass judgment on events in your life or the behavior of others. Dig deeper before you decide on what things mean or before passing judgment. Strive to see the bigger picture, attempt to view events through the eyes of others, and adopt a wait and see attitude. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/zen-art-context/ )
⦁ Be a relentless learner. Get back to being the natural student that you once were. There was a time in your life, probably preschool to middle school, where you found school and education exciting. Somewhere around sixth grade it became tedious and “work,” probably because you were told to study and remember things you weren’t interested in. Well, you’re a grown up now and can decide what you want to learn about and study. In this information/Internet age there is absolutely no excuse for not satisfying your natural curiosity. You have at your fingertips more information than the public library held when you were a child, all available at the push of a button. Use it wisely. There is more to the Internet than cute pictures of animals and updates on where your friends went for coffee today.
⦁ Find new activities that you’ve “always wanted to do,” and do them. You’ve been making excuses for a long time about these things, so it’s put up or shut up time. Just do it. Don’t worry about what “they” will think, or how you may look foolish while doing it. Approach new activities with the mindset of a beginner and enjoy the process. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/beginners-mind/ )
⦁ Develop more intelligent use of your physiology. Learn to become more grounded and aware of how you use your body and mind. Have a daily exercise routine and observe your body’s response with curiosity. Don’t focus on the end result, or the long-range goals. Instead, focus on the process. Approach your exercise routine in the same manner that you approached recess when you were a kid. Remember the fun of getting outside, going wild for 20 minutes, and returning to class all sweaty but refreshed and ready to roll? That’s the way to approach your exercise regimen.
⦁ Develop some type of meditative practice. Start small, learning to get curious and mindful about something. And, if you “can’t meditate,” see http://mindbodycoach.org/moving-meditation/ .
At one time in your life, you had a lot of fun because of your natural curiosity. It’s time that you regained the once healthy and happy outlook that you had. It’s never too late to wonder.
“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”- Samuel Johnson
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