There is a trait that greatly enhances our quality of life. When cultivated it leads to happiness, quality intimate relationships, academic and intellectual achievement, increased empathy, enhanced leadership skills, personal growth and so much more. That trait is curiosity, according to our dynamic parenting and relationship expert, Dr. Miranda Fernande Walichowski
What is curiosity, really? Curiosity is a strong desire to learn or understand something. Curiosity leads to deep thinking, exploration, investigation, observation, and inquiry. Curiosity seems innocuous, a good trait to cultivate. However, it also carries a degree of infamy.
The ever inquisitive Plato had an admonishment about curiosity. The Classical philosopher told the story about Thales, a man who gazed curiously at the stars and walked into and fell in a ditch. The servant girl who helped him out of the ditch said to him, “How do you expect to understand what is going on up in the sky if you do not even see what is at your feet?” Todd Kashdan, a positive psychologist, confirms that there are concerns surrounding unbridled curiosity. Yet he remains supportive of healthy curiousity, stating that “while a curious nature [may sometimes be] linked to impulsive behavior, [such as] a greater likelihood of taking drugs and engaging in other dangerous activities, its benefits far outweigh its possible problems, and not only for children.”
Albert Einstein, one of history’s most brilliant minds, made a compelling statement about curiosity: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
Take it from Einstein—healthy curiosity can be and should be cultivated. Learning something new is exciting, and maintaining an inquisitive mind helps the mind stay sharp. There are other unexpected benefits, too. First, Todd Kashdan found in his research that curiosity can deepen bonds in friendship and love. He argues that curiosity is what sustains passion in couples who have been married for over 50 years. Some researchers have found that curiosity increases empathy as well. As we are more relational, we become more self-aware.
Second, curiosity increases learning and academic success. Teachers know that when curiosity is fostered, learning takes root. In his work, Kashdan found that children’s intelligence develops faster and more efficiently when they have unstructured (perhaps even unsupervised) playtime.
Third, curiosity is an asset in the new human economy. We live in a knowledge economy which is fueled by knowledge-based products, services, and skills. However, as technology replaces tasks that humans do, we move into what Dov Seidman describes as “[the human economy which will require that workers] bring to their work essential traits that can’t be and won’t be programmed into software; like creativity, passion, character, and collaborative spirit—their humanity, in other words. The ability to leverage these strengths will be the source of one organization’s superiority over another.”
Lastly, curiosity increases happiness and life satisfaction. Kashdan and his colleague Paul Rose found that individuals who are curious report more frequent growth-oriented behaviors. These behaviors are related to seeking awareness and searching for meaning. As individuals become more mindful, life satisfaction increases.
This summer is a great time to develop curiosity alongside children. Here are a few ways to cultivate healthy curious habits with your family:
- Set a goal to be curious throughout this summer.
- Checking-in on curiosity. For example, hold curiosity conversations and have everyone share what he or she is learning.
- Be curious about people when you meet with them. Teach children how to be curious and ask questions without interrogating people. One way to stay curious in conversations is to avoid referring to oneself. Refrain from using the words “I,” “me” or “my.”
- Challenge each other to see things in multiple ways. I encourage my coaching clients to picture a concept or problem as a cube. I ask them to turn the cube and look at one face and think about how they are interpreting the situation. Then I ask them to turn the cube to another face and think of a different interpretation. I challenge them to come up with six ways of understanding something. Then they choose the one that is most compelling to explore.
Arnold Edinborough, founding President of the Council for Business and the Arts in Canada, stated, “Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.” Are you ready to foster a curious mind in yourself and others? All will be fine. As you take the journey, do not be remiss and merely look in one direction. Broaden the panorama of your curiosity lest you be gazing at the sky and fall into a ditch. And after all, if you do fall into a ditch, your curiosity may help you climb out of it.