Step Outside Your Life: How Curiosity Is Good for You
Finding a Thirst for Knowledge
No one has ever accused me of being an adventurous person: I've never traveled abroad, rarely attempt physical activity more exciting than walking along a well-marked path, have no desire to dye my hair a crazy color or experiment with my eye makeup. But I've always loved to learn. As a young woman I was first in line for the newest foreign flick, was game for any and all political discussions, and adored poring over the Encyclopedia Britannica and soaking up everything it had to say about English monarchs or the Russian Revolution.
These days, as a harried working mother of three boys, I like to think I retain a healthy curiosity about the world. But if I were to be completely honest, I'd have to admit that I stick pretty closely to my routine. My days are notable only for their utter predictability: I get up, make breakfast, drive the kids to school, come home, do laundry, and work at my desk until it's nearly time to pick up the kids. When we get home again, I remove the clothes from the dryer and -- you guessed it -- fold them. Pretty exciting stuff, huh?
But every so often I try to introduce a little novelty into my life. Last year, for example, I saw a display of pomegranates in the supermarket. I had no idea exactly what they were -- fruits? vegetables? gigantic nuts? -- but I bought one anyway. "It's time," I lectured myself, "that you tasted a pomegranate."
At home, my children hovered as I unpacked the groceries. "What's this?" Henry asked, palming the pomegranate like a baseball.
"Can we eat it?" Joe asked.
But I didn't know whether to cut it or peel it, whether it was ripe yet or which parts were edible. "We'll eat it after I look it up online," I said. "Have an apple."
And so it went, for days. The kids would peer into the fruit basket and say, "Let's eat the pomegranate!" And I'd say, "I haven't had time to look it up." Finally it collapsed, rotten, and I threw it on the compost heap.
And that's when I had my moment of truth. As I stood there looking at the pomegranate, oozing its ruby juices, I wondered what had happened to that eager, knowledge-hungry girl. Was I really so busy and single-minded that I could no longer find time to indulge even a tiny moment of random curiosity? When had I stopped finding the world fresh, fascinating, and utterly delicious?
Curiosity is a natural impulse that manifests itself in two primary ways: the urge to understand something new and the urge to experience novelty. Kids generally exhibit both, because figuring out how the world works is their chief task as newcomers to the planet. That's why they're apt to wander off at the mall or conduct ad hoc experiments like sleeping with their heads at the foot of the bed to see if they'll wake up with a different perspective on life.