“Life must be lived and curiosity kept alive.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt –
In this article, Eleanor Roosevelt shares her perspective on the importance of curiosity. She notes that curiosity is essential for living fully–it allows us to engage with our world, learn, explore, and find new solutions.
Curiosity is the spark that causes us to look around and connect with one another.
A couple days ago, I listened to a podcast interview with Uli Beutter Cohen, founder of the Subway Book Review project. I’m pretty sure that Uli and Eleanor Roosevelt would have been fast friends. They share a philosophy that every person carries a wealth of stories and life experience. When we are willing to connect, to ask questions, to live a life filled with curiosity, we thrive. What I loved about Uli’s interview was the energy in her voice, the lit-up aliveness that wove through her words as she described her project. She believes that books are an accessory. We put them on like we might put on a hat or scarf. Books may be a more telling accessory than a hat or scarf because they help us get to know a person, especially when the person is willing to share why he or she chose this particular book on this particular day. That’s what Uli’s project is all about: she doesn’t plug into her headphones and tune out on the subway. She asks people about the books they’re reading, and collects stories one at a time.
It’s tempting to look around and think that there are two types of people … the ones who are curious and the ones who are not. It’s more difficult to admit that we each have the capacity for curiosity and the capacity for disinterest. The decision to live with a spirit of curiosity is not a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it choice. That’s why I love the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt above. We must keep our curiosity alive.
What does the care and feeding of curiosity look like?
- Keeping our eyes open
Noticing our surroundings is a choice. It’s a practice, and one that becomes a habit. When we intentionally pay attention to the light in the clouds or the light in faces around us, we are rewarded with beautiful moments. The more we experience those beautiful moments, the more deeply ingrained the habit of paying attention becomes. We teach ourselves the value of an open-eyed approach to life, and with each choice to look around, we remind ourselves of why taking time to notice our world matters.
- Asking questions
When we were three, we asked questions as a way of life. Why was a general response to nearly everything. Then, as we wore down the adults in our lives, we learned to control our inquisitive minds. It’s true that a string of “but why?” questions can be exhausting. When we ask why without any additional context, we place the entire responsibility for knowing the answer on the other person. However, when we ask questions artfully, in a way that invites another person to share their own experience and stories, we aren’t quizzing the world, we’re engaging with it. Like any art, the art of asking questions requires focus and dedicated effort.
- Reflecting on what we see and hear
We reinforce what we focus on. If we focus the majority of our attention on what goes wrong in our lives, our life experience feels like a string of disasters. We remember the irritating email and the car that cut us off on the freeway and the difficult conversation at work. How was our day? From this perspective, it was unhappy. If, instead, we pause and savor the beautiful moments we collect—a story from someone in the elevator, or the exact colors of a sunset, we feel that we live in a world of beauty. Since the difficult situations are usually louder, it takes intention to notice the quieter moments. As with paying attention and asking questions, the effort of reflection is entirely worthwhile. When we reflect, we map a landscape of our lives and our communities that is fueled by—and that further fuels—our curiosity.
When I took my sabbatical last year, I had the opportunity to follow my curiosity. For a full month, I didn’t let a to-do list rule my life. Instead, I let the inner drive that simply wants to know propel me through my days. By the end of the month, I felt whole, calm, restored. What had happened? I’d taken the time to tend to my curiosity, and it made all the difference. I was a little afraid, coming back into my real life, that I would lose that spark as deadlines and expectations settled back in. And sometimes it does feel like I’m losing track of my curiosity. Sometimes I do put my head down and simply push toward finishing a task. Still, that month is fresh in my mind, and it doesn’t take much to set down my work for an hour or two, to tap back into that mindset, and to engage with my world.
How healthy is your curiosity right now?
Have you been able to tend it recently? Do you need a day to wander and to let your questions lead the way? It’s not a waste of time, not even a little bit. So, just in case you need permission … permission granted. Go on, go have an adventure. Let the world surprise you. And once you’ve had your adventure, come on back and share your story with me. I’d love to hear about your experience. Comment below, or connect with me on Facebook
. Let’s follow our curiosity and see where it leads us!