Seeing with Fresh Eyes: The Power of Curiosity

Baby Blues“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

If I could change Mrs. Roosevelt’s beautiful wish in one little way, I would insert the word “undying” before “curiosity.”   Curiosity is a gift that we’re all given at birth.  The trick is to keep it alive as we mature.

Instead of seeing with fresh eyes, we see through a veil of memory and assumptions as we become familiar with the world.  By reviving our sense of curiosity, we can penetrate that veil, see things anew, quicken our interest in the world around us and make new discoveries.

Positive psychology tells us that curiosity (along with gratitude, optimism, zest, and the ability to love and be loved) is one of the five character strengths that contribute most to our sense of life-satisfaction.  It links to all of the areas that positive psychology founder Martin Seligman identifies as key to a life of flourishing: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement.

And George Mason University psychology professor, Todd Kashdan, agrees.  His book on the topic is titled, Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. In an interview with Kathryn Britton for Positive Psychology News Daily,  Kashdan says:

“In my book, I call curiosity the engine of growth. You can’t find your passions or purpose in life without trial and error experimentation. Curiosity is a mechanism that helps you create and discover meaning in your life.”

The Benefits of Curiosity

When she called curiosity “the most useful gift,” Mrs. Roosevelt revealed her keen powers of observation.  Exercising curiosity brings us a host of benefits:

  • It’s fun!   The new experiences that curiosity brings us are a source of stimulation and pleasure.
  • By letting us see even familiar things with fresh eyes, it lets us find new meanings in the familiar.
  • Curiosity roots us in the present.  It lets us be more open, engaged, and to exercise our creativity by making new connections between things.
  • Curiosity fuels creativity and innovation.
  • Contributes to neurological health and may even reverse natural degeneration in older adults.  “In short, a regular dose of the unexpected helps keep your brain healthy.”
  • It make you smarter.
  • Curiosity about others keeps relationship open, interesting, more vital.  And it makes forming new relationships easier.
  • Curiosity increases your happiness level.   “The more curiosity you can muster for something, the more likely you are to notice and learn about it, and thus the more interesting and meaningful it will become for you over time.”

How to Revive Your Curiosity

If  your sense of curiosity has dimmed—or trained out you by someone who told you not to be so nosy!—don’t despair.

In his interview with Britton, Kashdan says, “Curiosity is strength people can wield. I can decide to go and seek new things. I can decide to look at a person from new perspectives. I can ask somebody about what they were like before I met them. I can ask my romantic partner what she does when I’m not there.”

So one key is to seek out new things.  Add more novelty to your day.   Get out of your rut.  Try doing things differently.  Take a different route to work.  Sit in a different chair or a different part of the room than usually do.  Park in a different part of the parking lot.  Make a game of discovering ten new things that you notice or experience, or that you experience differently.

Accept the scariness of doing something new, of taking risks.  Go in baby steps.  Try labeling the feeling of “scary” as “excitement” instead.

Think of yourself as an explorer, a detective, an adventurer.

Look for the details that most people miss.

People watch in a restaurant or mall.   What does a person’s dress, or posture, or facial expression tell you about them?   Why do you think so?  Is your assessment likely to be true? Where did your judgments originate?  Are they likely to be true?

After you watch a movie or TV show or read a book, ask yourself, “ What did I discover from that experience?  What did I learn?”

Above all, learn to ask questions.  “Curiosity is questioning. By training your brain to question more, you can train your brain to be more curious,” the folks at New and Improved suggest in a newsletter issue about energizing curiosity.

They give these great tips for learning to question more:

  • The great sage Alex Trebek, the host of the TV game show Jeopardy, provides great wisdom every time he says, “Please phrase it in the form of a question.”  We can use that advice to put our problems in jeopardy of going away by phrasing them as a question. Twist your complaint (I work too much.) to a question (How might I work less? In what ways could I make work more fun?) Read more about this technique here.
  • When you hear someone say “it can’t be”, ask, “why not?” Our colleague and genius researcher Andy Aleinikov likes to say “’Why not’ every not.”
  • Hang a reminder question on your bathroom mirror: “What am I curious about today?” or “What am I interested in learning about today?”
  • Google or Yahoo search “Curiosity” and see what you find. (Make sure your cat is nowhere near your computer screen when you do this.)

What would happen if you put some of these suggestions to work in your life?  Are you curious about finding out?  Do you wonder how the world would look if you were seeing through fresh eyes?

Do you know somebody else who would enjoy reading this article?  I’m curious: Will you share it?

Photo by bluebetty at stock.xchng



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