Grant Clowers: Approach life with curiosity and watch the doors open
For the Nevada Appeal
We human beings love certainty. There is such a good feeling that goes with figuring something out and getting that knowledge in the can. In fact, we love certainty so much that we are easily satisfied with what might turn out to be a wrong or partial answer. For our certainty-loving minds, a bad answer is better than no answer at all.
The problem with our quick acquisition of easy answers is that they tend to be misleading. As the adage goes, it’s not what you know but what you think you know that tends to get you in trouble.
Fortunately for us, there is an innate ability that we humans have that can help to short-circuit our quest for simple certainty and at the same time can make life infinitely interesting. A psychologist at George Mason University, Todd Kashdan, says that curiosity is often a missing ingredient to a happy life.
By curiosity we mean choosing to take an interest in something and being open and receptive to it. Curiosity is the opposite of understanding and categorizing.
Categorizing includes statements about reality rather than being open to reality: “He’s always …” or “She’s never …” or “This is right” or “I don’t like that” are instances of categorizing. The problem is that once you get something into a category you start seeing it through the lens of the category rather than being open to seeing it for what it actually is.
The alternative that we have available to us is let go of our knowledge and thoughts about a situation and actually look at it with interest, to really observe and be open to what is happening, rather than getting caught in our thoughts about what is going on.
I remember a time when I put this into effect for myself. I had an evening alone with not much to do. I felt bored. Instead of rushing in to “fix” the boredom with an activity, I took a few minutes and examined my boredom with curiosity. And, the interesting thing was, I couldn’t be bored and interested at the same time.
A practical consequence of curiosity was found in a research study at Stanford. They put people together who had opposing views on controversial topics. They taught one person in the pair to ask one clarifying question before giving their own views. What the research showed is that asking this one question led to a perception that he or she was fair and open-minded, which resulted in more discussion and dialogue and less intense arguing. Being curious rather than being “right” may lead to less conflict and more happiness in relationships.
Try this experiment for yourself. Take an everyday activity, one that you know like the back of your hand, and instead of going through it on autopilot, take some time to really look at it with openness and curiosity. You might be surprised and interested in what you see.
• Grant Clowers is a psychotherapist practicing in Carson City.