As a kid in hilly West Virginia, I heard the best predictor of long life was love of life. The trait most likely to keep me going, I decided, was curiosity. I always wanted to see what was around the next corner.
Didn’t curiosity kill the cat and open Pandora’s box? Not really. When nosiness harms relationships or reckless experiment harms bodies, blame the action, not the interest. Curiosity is a blessing for body, mind, and spirit.
Curiosity doesn’t just motivate us to learn. It also improves recall and brightens tempers by activating the hippocampus (involved in creating memories) and brain areas that transmit dopamine, associated with anticipatory pleasure. Fear may ease its grip when we ask what we can learn from it. As for bodily benefits, I take longer walks when distracted by unfamiliar surroundings. What’s around the next corner?
Shedding preconceptions is a blessing I’m learning to value. To say “I don’t know, I’d like to learn” allows space for possibilities. It’s easy to dismiss people if you assume you know what makes them tick. In her book Respect, sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot tells how a portrait photographer’s respectful curiosity about his subjects helps him see beyond the obvious. Zen Buddhists speak of “beginner’s mind,” setting aside certainty in favor of staying open.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.