“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life” – Linus Pauling
As humans, we are curious by nature and enjoy satisfying our curiosity. Our understanding of ourselves and the world starts at a very young age with the question “why” and it transcends into our desire for exploration, knowledge, and creativity. Curiosity also requires you to slow down and be fully engaged in the moment. Just observe a small child exploring their surroundings or immersed in play. But in today’s hurried, tech-dependent world, a distracted “unfocused” mind can be detrimental to our health and well-being. We can end up scrolling mindlessly for hours on trivial and sometimes obscene or conspiratorial content. (Over one million Americans died from COVID-19, many who believed the pandemic was a hoax and refused to get vaccinated.) On the other hand, a more “focused” curiosity can be a force for good and improved mental health. This inquisitive itch can help us to discover more about ourselves, have more fulfilling relationships, and drive us to explore and understand the world better. If you’re an inventor, scientist, or a compassionate physician like Dr. Paul Farmer, it could also lead to a greater good for humanity.
In the book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why your Future Depends on It, author Ian Leslie makes a distinction between three main types of curiosity: “diversive” or unfocused curiosity, an aimless desire for novelty or new content, no matter how trivial or perverse or harmful; “epistemic” curiosity, a deeper, more disciplined curiosity that’s associated with a sense of wonder and purpose and also a thirst for knowledge and desire to learn new things; and “empathic” curiosity, the desire to know what other people are thinking and feeling. Leslie believes that curiosity is a skill that needs to be cultivated, yet our dependency on our smartphones and Google to provide information or answers on command can undermine our epistemic curiosity. Similarly, when we limit our social interactions to text messages, tweets, or single click “Like” emojis, or post Instagram images of our favorite pets, food, or vacation spots, we’re not fully engaged with the people we’re communicating with and the places we’re visiting. This limits our opportunities for exercising empathic curiosity.
I’m as guilty of this behavior as anyone as it appeases my ADHD brain. Like most, I’ve adapted to the habit of texting or emailing rather than calling family, friends, or colleagues. I can also get lulled into internet rabbit holes of my varied interests (mainly news feeds on health, fitness, outdoor recreation, and sports). But as a writer for this blog, The internet and Google have also been invaluable, especially when it comes to the efficiency of doing research for my wellness articles. I’d like to believe my hunger for knowledge is attuned to a sense of purpose towards understanding my subject matter and providing well-researched and trustworthy health information to my readers.
Self-help author and sociologist Martha Beck says, “When you meet people, show real appreciation, then genuine curiosity.” That partly describes empathic curiosity where you have a genuine desire to listen and to try and understand people’s thoughts and feelings. However, that’s easier said than done when we’re so attached to our smartphones. Our digital devices “nurture ego-centric tendencies,” encouraging us to stare at our screens instead of deeply engaging with the person in front of us. Most of us have experienced or witnessed this behavior, such as a couple staring at their phones while sitting together at a restaurant, or parents who are glued to their phones while their kids try very hard to get their attention to play with them.
Having empathic curiosity can also help others feel more positive and confident as well as foster a sense of trust. For instance, making eye contact and being responsive to our children’s needs, or our doctors taking the time to listen and understand our health problems exemplify empathic curiosity. Studies show that healthcare professionals drive better outcomes for their patients when they show empathy. The impact of an illness or injury on our physical well-being and psyche is significant. So, “Having our emotional needs met when we visit our doctor can be as important as addressing the health issues itself.” Although, technology has made healthcare more accessible and efficient, it has also made it less human. Healthcare technology combined with a hurried and stressful work environment has made it more difficult for doctors to be empathetic.
Technology can be a powerful tool for good, making our lives easier and more efficient. It can help us decompress from our busy lives, connect us to family and friends, take online classes, learn interesting things about the world and have information at our finger tips. But it can also be problematic, depending on how we use it. Finding that balance is the key. Taking time to quiet our minds away from our screens so that we’re more curious and engaged with the world and people around us, can lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.
Here are a few practical ways to cultivate our curiosity: The following suggestions are excerpted from an article which you can find here.
Watch an animal explore their surroundings and you’ll see how they patiently sit and observe. Curiosity requires stillness and slowness, too. Use your senses to smell, touch, taste, etc. Move up close. Don’t try to observe everything from one spot or one perspective. Take time to be present in the environment. Curiosity requires study and wonder.
Notice how many questions you ask versus how many you answer. Challenge yourself to ask two or three questions before sharing your thoughts. Take time to understand a few layers deeper and check assumptions before responding.
Expand your sources
Make a habit of talking to others with different beliefs or listening to perspectives different than our own. It helps to generate natural questions and expand your understanding of different perspectives and thoughts. Recognize your biases and assumptions so that you can operate in an expansive open space rather than through a closed and narrow view of the world.
Try something new
When we intentionally change things, it causes us to be more conscious of what we are doing. It leads us to ask questions like, “Is this the best approach?” It can be as simple as taking a different route to work or asking your direct report how they would solve a problem before offering up a solution. Change allows for the discovery of things you may have missed.
Share Your Wellness Thoughts: Do you consider yourself curious? Join our conversation below.