Curiosity is the fundamental building block of success and fulfillment. It is something we are all born with in abundance, and is vital to our survival as individuals and as a species on the whole. Yet too often we relegate it, along with imagination, to a childhood toybox; we replace it with security and comfort. It becomes all too easy to ignore rather than explore, and to avoid the anxiety associated with new ideas and new encounters.
“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” -Albert Einstein
As we progress through our early school years we learn a new survival skill. Like a chameleon, we learn to blend in–to conform to our surroundings. Curiosity causes us to raise our hand, to ask questions, to stand out. And school hardly seems like the place you would want to do that. So most of us keep our hands down, stifle our natural curiosity, pretend that we fully grasp concepts we are hearing for the first time, and remain ignorant. But socially we survive, and it isn’t until later that we realize that simply surviving is not enough.
So how do we get that sense of wonder back? We once had a limitless supply of curiosity, and it is still there within each of us. But like any other characteristic or trait, it must be cultivated, nurtured, and sustained. Perhaps the best way to begin the process of recultivating your curiosity is by seeking novelty among the things we already know or think we understand fully. Start with your relationship with your spouse, or your children, or your parents. So often we make assumptions about someone’s motivation or even their personality based on their behavior, and we put them in a box and label it, and then we say we “know” that person. It’s a time-saver I guess, and we certainly avoid the discomfort of asking them why they behaved a certain way, but the end result is that we rob ourselves of a deeper, more meaningful relationship with them.
“Curiosity is one of the great secrets of happiness.” -Bryant H. McGill
Another way to nurture our curiosity is to look for things in our lives that make us anxious or that we’ve been avoiding. Fear of uncertainty, change, and novelty are generally at the core of these moments; fear that can be allayed by a more comprehensive understanding of the situation. Use that feeling of fear to ignite your curiosity. Curiosity begets research, and research begets further curiosity, and then understanding which is a pretty powerful weapon against fear.
Now I’m not saying we have to be interested or curious about everything. Curiosity is fueled by our motivation, and certain things just won’t move your needle. But if you ask yourself, “What am I excited about? What am I motivated to pursue?” you will probably find that you have already been nurturing your curiosity at least a bit, and transferring it to something you’ve avoided pursuing becomes a much smaller step to take.
Remember, curiosity can only be satisfied by understanding. It is not just about asking the questions; it’s also about listening to the answers.