Did curiosity kill the cat or give it 9 lives? More importantly, can it help you? Recent research has shown that curious people tend to report “higher levels of subjective well-being which, in turn, is associated with lower levels of depression.”(1) As for whether curiosity is as good for cats as it is humans, I’m not really allowed to investigate. My grand dog Stewart forbids it and, as you know, he is in charge because he’s just so darn cute!
Nonetheless, it’s good to know that there’s now official research to support my longtime contention that nurturing curiosity and the natural joy of learning in ourselves and our children on a regular basis can give us an invaluable tool to use when we find ourselves unable to shake a blue period. Had I not been inspired by the larger world I discovered by being curious, I do not believe I would be here.
I grew up in a household filled with chaos, anger, cruelty, and neglect that left an imprint which still sometimes colors my view of the world. I feel so grateful to Dr. Seuss, Alice Hegan Rice, Madeleine L’Engle, Emily Dickinson, Adela Rogers St. Johns, Corrie Ten Boom, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Steinbeck, William Golding, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and John Updike for giving me pages to turn that held my curiosity and expanded my world. While books were a lifeline for me, you may feel more pulled to music or art or the outdoors.
While I can’t remember a moment I ever felt completely carefree, I also can’t remember a moment in which I wasn’t excited to learn something new. Even at a point when I felt so disconnected and numb that I knew it was time to visit the doctor, my curiosity moved me forward and pulled me toward resources that helped me find a path to change my circumstances and improve my life. That was long ago. I’ve sorted, processed, changed, and healed many more difficult things since then, and curiosity has served me well each time I’ve wandered down the path of healing, growth, and self-improvement.
Sometimes positive change comes from something as simple as allowing myself to get curious about my own behavior. Rather than label a response as good or bad or hurtful or defensive or anything at all in a particular circumstance, I take a moment and look at the moment from an observer’s point of view, shrug my shoulders and say, “Huh, I wonder what that was about?” This has the effect of moving me past a feeling of crisis and into a problem solving mode. It’s an invaluable tool at my disposal whenever I need it.
When I move into the observer position, I automatically talk to myself in third person. Turns out my instinct to do this is another good tool to help reduce anxiety and help me self-regulate. A recent study led by Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor states that “small shifts in the language people use to refer to the self during introspection consequentially influence their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress, even for vulnerable individuals.” The authors note that this is a technique used by LeBron James.(2) Hey if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. And I love having another useful tool in my arsenal.
At this point you may be curious (we can only hope) why I’m talking about this anyway. It’s really pretty simple. If you’re choosing healthy food and making time to exercise that’s great, but it’s equally important to actively care for your emotional well-being. This is especially true if you are physically ill or are a caregiver for someone else. While this may seem like a no-brainer, most of the daily messages I see about health or healthy lifestyle focus only on diet and exercise. I want to make sure we help fill the gap by providing you with recipes for emotional resilience as well as for good food.
So, today I’m curious what Elon Musk will say tonight on The Late Show. I really want one of those Tesla 3 cars. Well, if I like it once I drive one. I’m curious what we’ll discuss at my Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter meetup this week. I’m curious whether the code I wrote last night will show up correctly on an updated browser, although I could lose interest in this answer pretty quickly since it’s useless code. I’m curious about Bzees shoes since I saw my neighbor’s pair. And…I finally figured out why I haven’t felt compelled to call my former walking partner since the day I turned around and walked off from him without explanation (See, sounds like terrible behavior doesn’t it, but instead of telling myself I must be a bad person, I’ve just been curious about my behavior for the past 4 months). As it turns out, my life is more peaceful when I don’t spend time with him and, along with curiosity, I highly value peace.
Of course I’m wondering, do you find curiosity a useful tool? If so, how has it helped you?
Read more about the research here:
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”