Have you ever considered that curiosity is the missing puzzle piece to living a happier life? Dr. Todd Kashdan, author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, explains.
Q: How do you define a life led by curiosity?
A: Curiosity is about recognizing and seeking out new knowledge and experiences. Instead of trying desperately to explain and control our world, we embrace uncertainty. Instead of trying to be certain and confident, we see our lives as a quest to discover and grow. There is no internal struggle to avoid the tension of being unsure. We don’t take positive events for granted, instead we investigate and explore them further.
Q: Why is curiosity so essential to a fulfilling life?
A: Contrary to conventional thinking, searching for happiness, certainty, and safety often gets in the way of the fulfillment we want. When we are open to new experiences and when we relish the unknown, positive events linger longer and we extract more pleasure and meaning from them. When we let go of rigid expectations about what to expect from our life, we expand our awareness by taking in from all of our senses. When we are open, we remove blinders to see that we are surrounded by beauty, kindness, and intrigue. When we are in a curious mindset, we recognize that self-doubt, anxiety about death, and pain are experiences that are part of us but they do not define us and do not need to get in the way of moving toward what is deeply important to us.
We are blinded by our expertise, and as soon as we think we know something we stop paying attention. A curious mindset is about the recognition that we will never be true experts and this means there is endless room to grow and evolve.
Q: How can we cultivate greater curiosity?
A: Mindfulness in daily life. Build a regular practice of being profoundly aware and exploratory in the task of your choosing. Discipline your mind to be open and flexible when you dance, lift weights when working out in the gym, playing scrabble, cooking meals, washing the dishes, commuting to or from work, or drawing/paining pictures.
Be open and receptive to what’s happening right now, in the moment. We spend far too much time relying on the past or the future. There are days when I drive home from work as fast as possible to take my kids to baseball practice while calling in dinner on my cellphone. We lose out on what is truly interesting and unique in any particular moment when we impose our will to get things done or to see things in a certain way.
Find the unfamiliar in the familiar. We [often] forget how little we ever know about anyone else. When we recognize how unique and interesting people are, we become better parents, better workers, better lovers, and more tolerant and compassionate. It’s a good idea to not get attached to any ideas and always try to look for alternatives to what you think you understand.
Remember that things change depending on time, place, and perspective. We learn to be curious when we recognize that there are few absolute answers in life. Flexible thinking leads to flexible people. Unfortunately…the focus is more on obedience and less on creating curious, creative, and wise people. When we consider different people with different backgrounds and different needs, this moves us away from black-and-white thinking to a greater appreciation of the beautiful gray area between.
Surround yourself with people that support your explorations and reciprocate. At any age, we are more curious when we possess secure, safe havens – other people that support our explorations, who let us effortlessly be ourselves. When other people validate what makes us curious, we literally become more curious and want to pursue similar activities with greater enthusiasm. Take advantage of this, get out of your head and start sharing moments of curiosity with other people who are good, responsive listeners.