I love this quote from Albert Einstein on the power of curiosity: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. 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 each day.”
I love it because it reminds me of how (very) little I actually know. I love it because it inspires me to research all kinds of magnificent mysteries, as Einstein said, a little each day.
Curiosity is the desire and drive to learn about something. And it’s what connects us to others and to ourselves. It’s what makes us more creative. It’s what brings us joy. As psychologist Deborah Serani told me, “Curiosity heightens your senses. And when your senses are amplified, you can experience positive emotions more intensely.”
It doesn’t take much to cultivate curiosity. Below you’ll find a list of ideas to try.
Ask questions. Ask Why? and How? and Who? and What? about anything and everything. Don’t judge your questions either. Since school, so many of us have worried about asking dumb questions and looking stupid. It’s OK if you don’t know. It’s actually good you don’t know. Because it’s an opportunity to do some exploring.
You can even make a list of random questions you’d love to know the answers to. How far away is the moon? How does wireless internet really work? Who invented the fork? How? What kinds of dinosaurs roamed the earth 230 million years ago? (How cool is that number?!) How did the first dictionary come about?
Immerse yourself in a topic. Delve deep into one of these topics. Check out a few books from the library. Read interviews by researchers and experts. Listen to related podcasts. Maybe even take a class to delve even deeper.
Or if a topic feels too overwhelming, delve into a single person. As Austin Kleon writes in his excellent 2012 book Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, “chew on one thinker—writer, artist, activist, role model—you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can.”
Read outside your box. Read about subjects you normally wouldn’t read about. Astronomy. Musical theater. Golf. Baking. Fishing. Read types of books you normally wouldn’t read. If you don’t read fiction, pick up a novel you might like (or try a short story). Modern Mrs. Darcy has lots of great suggestions. Or read a collection of poetry. Or read from an era you’ve never read from.
Always carry a notebook. You need a place to jot down your findings and record your observations. In Steal Like An Artist, Kleon also encourages readers to use their notebooks for copying favorite passages from books, jotting down overheard conversations and doodling when you’re on the phone.
“Go to whatever lengths necessary to make sure you always have paper with you,” he writes. “Artist David Hockney had all the inside pockets of his suit jackets tailored to fit a sketchbook. The musician Arthur Russell liked to wear shirts with two front pockets so he could fill them with scraps of score sheets.”
(By the way, here are 41 ways to use a notebook.)
Take an inquisitive approach to your relationships. There are so many interesting things we don’t know about our loved ones. Get curious about their history and likes and dislikes. Ask about their heroes and their favorite books. Ask about what they’d do if they had a different profession. Ask about their favorite memories. Ask them to share stories that might surprise you—or stories that surprised them.
Also, use curiosity to navigate conflict. Instead of making assumptions about why your partner is upset (or even assuming that they are upset), ask them to share where they’re coming from, what they’re feeling, and why they’re feeling this way. Try to be open and interested and non-judgmental. Try to listen fully.
Take an inquisitive approach to yourself. Instead of getting angry with yourself, because you didn’t get something done or you made a mistake or you failed to meet an expectation, explore why. Explore your thoughts and feelings every day. Take the time to check in with yourself.
Get curious about your dreams, and needs, and preferences. Why do you like what you like? Where do you need more support? How can you meet your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual needs?
Curiosity sparks our creativity. It brightens our days. It bonds us to others. It brings joy. It opens our eyes and hearts to all sorts of stories. Stories that satiate our sense of wonder. Stories that teach us and challenge us. Stories that stay with us. For a long time.
The only tricky part is deciding what topic to explore first.