If there is one state and attribute about myself that I wish I would have developed earlier in life, it is by far the state of curiosity. Among many fine attributes and personal practices, research studies have shown that people who are more curious have a greater sense of happiness and joy in their lives. I don’t know of anyone who at some level doesn’t want to find happiness or be happy on a more consistent basis. According to the Dalai Lama, “it is the very purpose of our life.”
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of science backed studies that conclude you have a greater sense of happiness and joy by developing and practicing this state within ourselves. So I examined it within myself and what I experienced by practicing it in hope that it will also serve you.
What is Curiosity?
Curiosity is a the physical, mental and emotional state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something. The benefit of curiosity is that is allows us to evaluate and embrace the unfamiliar situations differently. Allowing yourself to discover and find alternative and more empowered meanings to things that occur in life. As a result, when we discover something new, find new meaning in things we typically grow and experience more positive emotional states such as joy and happiness.
When I began practicing this state more frequently, my life began to shift noticeably in some areas where I had previously found challenge. As I reflected on what those shifts were, I thought to share what I learned in the effort and hope to serve you on your journey to happiness.
Overall Intelligence and Learning:
One of the largest benefits I saw was the overall speed at which I could obtain knowledge and retain it. Curiosity was essentially the primer for the engine to gain intelligence. What I didn’t know at the time and discovered later, was it fueled what I like to refer to as spatial intelligence. As I practiced this state more and more in my everyday life, I was soon able to see patterns that I never noticed before and see how seemingly once random, separate events were now connected to one another allowing me to understand entirely new meanings. This was certainly one of the coolest discoveries I experienced.
Wow, did things change here.. By practicing the state of curiosity, I found that I was engaged much deeper in every relationship whether that was a friendship, parental relationship or a courtship of some kind. The ability to understand someone else soon took on a whole new meaning and I discovered things I had never truly experienced before or at the very least experienced differently. One of the largest shifts I found in myself was the ability to connect with someone else much more closely as curiosity invites openness and presence to a relationship. As I became more curious, the other in the relationship became more open and this became a revolving cycle of synergy. I also felt and became more empathetic toward others. So deeply at times, that I could experience what they felt. One of the most powerful thoughts that occurred to me one day was this… When I am in the state of curiosity, I am not judging or blaming the world or others. I could see the world as it really was rather than, worse than it was – I could see the truth in things. Think about how powerful that is for you and others you care about…
Development of response versus reaction:
We all probably have had those situations in life where something bad happens, someone says something rude or does something we disapprove of and we jump right to the emotional pit of despair and become angry, frustrated, sad or depressed among many others. I certainly have. I remember times in my young life either through sports or someone saying something that I thought was offensive, rude or something of the sort; I could fly off the handle and lose it! I just reacted to things and usually not in a way that produced a really positive outcome if you know what I mean… As I began to develop the state of curiosity in myself what I noticed is there were less and less occurrences of this happening. Even things that evoked a negative emotion were far less intense than they had been previously and they left even faster. This practice ultimately allowed me to find alternative meanings, engaging the logical and rational parts of the brain more often, seeing beyond the emotional cloud of distortion and offer a response rather than a reaction.
What to practice?
Practice is necessary to become proficient at any skill. You won’t be perfect at it out of the gate or maybe for a while but with practice you will find those “ah ha” moments and moments of greatness that will keep you coming back for more and more. Still to this day, I practice these very simple, practical but powerful techniques and strategies developed from years of trial in error. These simple things have not only helped me develop a greater sense of curiosity but also my emotional and mental awareness and intelligence.
1. Self-Awareness – Curiosity with my emotions: I will intentionally check in with myself (now many times a day) on what is happening right now with me or in the last 30 minutes or potentially the previous hour. I will intentionally ask myself these questions – “What are my emotions telling me right now?”, “Did I choose them intentionally or did I let them choose me?” You have the ability to choose every emotion you feel and by asking yourself the question, your brain searches for an answer. It’s amazing what you may find so I won’t spoil the surprise for you..
2. Habit Development – Everyday Rituals: Every morning when I wake the first thing I do is grab a cup of coffee, sit down somewhere and begin to ask myself three questions. The first one fuels my sense of curiosity and here is what I ask – “I can learn anything today, what do I most want to discover, learn and grow in today?” This is a long list for me so it doesn’t take much to get there and the more I practiced it, the longer the list became. Oh!! One more tip – when I found something through the course of my day (read it, thought it, experienced it, told it, etc.) I would write it down (usually typed it in my phone) and started a master list of things that were interesting to me and go to that list in the future if needed. Today, that list is over 700 items so I’ll be busy for a while…
3. Conversations: Before any anticipated conversation, I will ask the question beforehand “what do I want to learn out of this conversation either about this person or about their view of the subject?” I intentionally try to learn something about the person that is a little deeper in the conversation than just surface level gibberish either through one question or a series of questions. Personally, I love to learn how different people think so as a topic emerges, many times I will ask them: “how did you come up with that?” or “what got you interested in that?” or “what did you noticed about this that changed you or helped you?” or one of my favorites – “what do you think you would have done differently if you had to do it all over again?” If conversations become and seem difficult or intense at times, practicing asking yourself these two questions “what else could this mean to them?” and “what is the positive in this conversation?” This helps you engage better emotional and mental resources as you now begin to look through the emotional lens of empathy and engage the part of the brain that handles logic and rational to search and find alternative positive meanings. What you may find by practicing this is that many of your initial worries don’t serve you or never served a relevant purpose.
4. Get Out Of Your Routine: I have learned the hard way that if I shake things up a little, it fuels my curiosity. Some days, I may work from my office, others I may go to a coffee shop to work. Other times, I may invite someone interesting over to work with on a project. Whatever you need to do, give yourself some stimulus to get curious about something or someone breaking the monotony of everyday routines and allowing boredom to reside day over day.
5. MY FAVORITE: Polish your mind through the thoughts of others: I absolutely love to learn from others on everything I have interest in so I can refine, polish and gain different perspectives of how others view the world. I read or listen to audio books religiously and the more I learn, the deeper and more expansive I want to continue to learn. I vividly remember working in Atlanta and for many years and I had a 90-minute commute to work in traffic and another 90 minutes coming home in the evening. Listening to so many audio books on a variety of topics from leadership, business, finance, relationships, emotions and even BBQ grilling, yes.. Bobby Flay and every famous BBQ world champion became almost gods to me. A little silly, I know but ask my family and or friends and they are the first ones to line up when the grill is on! Over the course of 3 years, I listened to more than 400 books just driving back and forth to work. Imagine what you can learn in your life if you spent time learning while doing mindless things. Listen or read a book on anything you are curious about while you are cleaning the house, running on the treadmill, folding laundry or just enjoying a sunny day outside doing nothing. We all can find some mindless times, how are you using yours?
I believe because I intentionally developed this state, I saw the world differently, thought of the world differently and as a result experienced the world differently. I grew as a person and human being and was able to contribute to life in different ways which for me, generated feelings of happiness and fulfillment toward myself. This may have been one of the truly great gifts I have ever given me – a better me.
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