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Curiosity is an often underestimated quality. Nurturing it can not only help us expand our minds but also serve as a regular reminder of the world's everyday mystery.
Life can be a lot sometimes. English poet W.H. Auden once said that we live in an "age of anxiety." Perhaps this has never been more relevant than today, as we traverse a time of multiple, constant crises.
There are many ways to deal with negative emotions directly. However, there is also the option of cultivating attitudes that can help us on a different level – without changing us or the world, but merely the way we look at it. Curiosity is one of these traits.
Obvious first step: DO be curious! But what does that mean exactly? At its core, it comes down to how you look at the world (and yourself). What is your first reaction to anything, and especially things you haver never seen before or only know little about? Are you apprehensive and prefer to stick with what you know, or do you marvel at the unknown?
Fear and prejudice are often related to ignorance. By being naturally curious, we can prevent these mental states from arising in the first place. Our initial reactions to things we experience are based on habitual patterns that we have built up over years. While we can't just flip a switch in our brain and suddenly react differently, we can change these patterns – it just takes a bit of time and a genuine aspiration to do so. Once the new habits have been developed, being curious will come just as easy as remembering to breathe.
When developing your curiosity, be mindful and make sure that you DON'T end up becoming naïve. Since curiosity is often associated with children, the line between being curious and being naïve can sometimes seem a bit blurry. But there is in fact a clear difference. Curiosity is driven by intellect and a genuine thirst for knowledge. While it is open to new experiences, the observation and analysis that follows is always critical and grounded in the rational mind. Being curious is therefore not the same as blindly plunging down a cliff just because there's something shiny at the bottom. People say curiosity killed the cat, but it would perhaps be more accurate to say mindless curiosity killed the cat – stick with mindful curiosity instead and you should be fine.
DO make time for marvelling. Curiosity is not always goal orientated. Sometimes being curious just means observing something with a completely non-judgmental, open mind. Without trying to categorise or assign labels. As an activity, it might seem completely pointless to some. But, curiously (see what I did there?), that is the point. Don't underestimate the importance of pointless activities in life, especially in a world where everything needs to have a value assigned to it.
In a similar way, DON'T feel bad about fleeting interests. Sometimes, curiosity is gone as fast as it came. That's completely fine. There is no need to feel bad about not committing to something full-time or feeling as if you didn't delve deep enough into a certain topic. Curiosity is all about exploring and dabbling is strongly encouraged. You might only have a few favourite meals but perhaps you'll find that it is nice to get a taste of everything.
Expand the scope beyond yourself and DO encourage curiosity in others. Obviously, this does not mean bullying others into a certain viewpoint. But do feel free to suggest a curious approach to experience whenever appropriate. You might even find that by simply being a naturally curious person, those around you will ever so slightly be subconsciously affected by that attitude. Just as our own personality is influenced by the people we interact with in life, we also have an effect on those we share relationships with – it is up to us to decide what that effect will be.
Finally, DON'T surrender curiosity. The arch-enemy of curiosity is cynicism. While curiosity is constantly seeking to expand, cynicism's only goal is to add more bricks to its wall. Human experience is endlessly complex. Don't deliberately limit that experience. The British panel show QI used to have a section on its website explaining the show's philosophy, which is also all about curiosity, and one sentence in particular sums it all up perfectly: "Everything is interesting if looked at in the right way." Give it a try and make a commitment to see the interesting side of life. Especially with things that don't seem interesting to you. You might just be surprised to discover how vast the world truly is.