“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.” Albert Einstein
Why are curiosity and observation building blocks for sustainable simplicity? Because in order to be happy and fulfilled in minimalist lives with less “stuff” to distract us, in order to tap into your creative energy and full potential, you need to get back to your naturally curious state. That’s right, naturally curious. Anyone who has spent time with young kids (who haven’t had their personalities modified by strict parents) knows that they are naturally curious and observant. They ask questions about….everything and anything. Thus, it follows, that since you were probably once a kid yourself, you were also naturally curious and observant. These two qualities are the antidote to boredom and disillusionment. They are the sparks that create magic moments in day-to-day life. Here’s what you’ve got to do to integrate them into your life as an adult!
37.1 Ask Questions, Turn Off (Part of!) Your Filter….
“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.” Tove Jansson
A lot of us learn as kids, either from family members or teachers and social pressure in school, to hold off on question asking and temper our boundless curiosity. Some of us become afraid of ridicule and let that keep us quiet for the rest of our lives. Others simply lose curiosity through the process of having things we don’t necessarily see the purpose of drilled into our brains. Or “real life” takes over and we start to focus only on what we “have to do” as productive, responsible adults and learn to ask questions that fit with the social norms of the day. In order to revive the lost curious child within you, you need to shake your question-asking self out of deep freeze. This means getting past whatever shyness or self-imposed limitations you’ve carried into your adult life!
It also means not just asking practical questions. Getting curious and being observant means wondering about things out loud, noticing things about people and places around you and wanting to get to the bottom of things! It usually implies a lot of slowing down as well. It’s impossible to notice things and wonder about them if you’re rushing through life! This is another reason why this whole “curiosity and observation” thing is important for a holistic minimalist lifestyle….because it makes you slow down and appreciate the details of the moment!
A great secondary benefit is that, if you dose it right, your relationships will likely improve as a result of being more curious and observant. If you hadn’t noticed (pun intended) people really like talking about themselves and feeling important. When we notice little changes about people or are curious about their thoughts and insights we build more intimate connections with them.
Now admittedly, taken to the extreme question asking can be a bit annoying (picture the five year old who every time you say a sentence asks “why?” and then when you answer they ask “why?” and then…you get the picture). There are also certain questions that kids might ask that you might not want to ask with the social skills you’ve gained over time (e.g. the kid who asks a total stranger “why do you smell so bad?”). There are still certain elements of “adulthood” that need to be taken into account when practicing asking questions.
One thing you can do if you either a) have a hard time asking questions when they pop into your head or b) have too many questions to not find yourself annoying by asking all of them in a day if you’re with the same people, is to write them down and ask at an appropriate time or once you’ve mentally prepared to “break the ice.”
37.2 Inquisitiveness Turned Inwards: Self-Reflection
“Enjoy every step you take. If you’re curious, there is always something new to be discovered in the backdrop of your daily life.”Roy T. Bennett
Another aspect of the same thing is that you should definitely not limit your curiosity and observation to others! Practice being equally, if not more inquisitive, with yourself. You’re sitting on a gold mine of fascinating material! Unless you’ve literally grown up in a personal development retreat center you probably haven’t spent all that much time questioning yourself about…yourself! Do you know why you like certain things and not others? Why you have certain value judgements? Have you pinpointed the areas of your personality you’d like to transform or develop? Do you analyze your dreams or wonder what the symbols in them mean? Have you noticed what traits you inherited from either of your parents, or how certain people make you react without you intending to, and wondered why that happens? Do you know how the different organs and muscles of your body work? So many questions! So much to observe and be curious about!
37.3 Become An Expert In Something…For No Particular Reason
“… what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.”Norton Juster
To get your curiosity juices really flowing, you need to give yourself permission to explore things that interest you, in depth. Without there having to be any particular, practical reason why this thing is “worth” learning about besides that you’re curious about it! When was the last time you went on a real curiosity research binge? Not just a “oh, let’s google it,” get the easiest superficial answer and be satisfied but forget the next day kind of curiosity. Real, in depth, getting to the bottom of the mysteries of life curiosity! If it’s been awhile, it’s time rekindle your inner detective.
It can also be super useful to push yourself to explore outside of what naturally interests you. This could be by researching a subject you’ve never really stopped to think about before. Or it could mean getting yourself to try something completely new once a week or once a month, be it a new kind of food, a new activity or or exploring a new place. Not only does this expand the boundaries of your natural curiosity, it give you way more material for both external and internal observation. You’ll be encountering things, people and places that are entirely new to you. How do you react to different or new things? Why? What are the things you notice about this new thing, place, person, when you check in with your various senses? What are the questions that immediately leap to mind? Can you find answers to them?
37.4 Books…For Reading and For Writing!
“The power of writing is phenomenal.” Lailah Gifty Akita
The phenomenal power of writing goes both ways. Reading a good book or article can completely transform your life, can stir up questions you never knew you had or provide the beginning of answers to some of your longest-lasting inquiries. Reading is an amazing way to learn about the world, about the psychology of our fellow humans, about cultural differences, geography, you name it! George R.R. Martin, author of the series that inspired Game of Thrones among many other things, says that “… a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” Whether you choose to read online or off good ol’ fashioned paper, reading is one of the most accessible sources of nourishment for the curious mind.
Writing can be equally powerful. A daily gratitude journal, a heartfelt letter to someone important to you, or notes about your questions and thoughts throughout the day can completely shift your outlook on life. Especially if you do any kind of creative work (which basically means, if you do anything in life, and choose to approach it with your creative mind!), having a notebook handy is an essential tool. Ideas come and go and if you don’t write them down they can easily disappear into thin air, never to be seen again! And you never know when inspiration is going to strike! When you open your mind to observation and curiosity you’re much more likely to be inspired and make interesting connections in your mind throughout the day. Plus, sometimes you’re in the middle of something and just can’t stop what you’re doing to investigate something further or ask a question you really want to know the answer to! Enough said.
37.5 Hang Out With Kids!
“Beyond all sciences, philosophies, theologies, and histories, a child’s relentless inquiry is truly all it takes to remind us that we don’t know as much as we think we know.” Criss Jami
As we already discussed at the beginning of this piece, kids are usually an overflowing cup of questions, flowing from their natural curiosity and sense of observation. They notice everything. They ask really simple questions that we find impossible to answer. They wonder about things that we take for granted. They point things out that we would be too shy or polite to mention. If you don’t have kids of your own, then you almost definitely have friends with kids who would be overjoyed to have you hang out with them so they can get a break! When you’re with kids you can let the inquisitive side of yourself roam free. It’s much harder to offend a kid than it is an adult. Plus, if they’re going to ask you tough question it’s only fair that you get to ask some too! Find a kid to be buddies with and contemplate the mysteries of the universe together, from small to large. Or just get inspiration from some of the crazy stuff they say and do!
37.6 A Tip For The Extremely Extroverted….
This may not apply to everyone, but consider whether you may need to learn how to listen more and speak less. People who are naturally introverted tend to do this anyways, but if you’re someone who gets super energized and excited by being around other people, you may want to check in with yourself about how much space you take up by putting information out…and how much you’re actually able to notice, observe and be curious about at the same time! If you tend to be a big talker, challenge yourself to ask more questions about other people and to really, really listen to their answers…without jumping in enthusiastically with a similar or related story, without turning the conversation back to your and your life and without thinking of what you could or are going to say in reply once they’re done!
37.7 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager.” Susan Sontag