Do you remember what it was like to experience curiosity as a child? To begin each day with such an insatiable appetite for new experiences that you rushed into your day with boundless energy and enthusiasm? Perhaps it’s not always that way now. I know it’s changed for me.
It takes intention to nurture a healthy sense of wonder about a world you’ve lived in for a very long time. It can become routine, tedious even, to spend every day doing what you have done so often. But it is possible to spark that curiosity back to life, even without making wholesale changes.
It’s all in your mind, or more precisely in your mindset. Some refer to it as a growth mindset, others as a savoir de vivre or a gusto for living that keeps us engaged in our everyday life. And I believe it may be the secret to keeping life interesting through the phases and changes that come with the passage of time.
What we’re talking about is shaping behavior. Framing our attitudes and actions in a way as to be engaged with not only the outside world, but also with our own contemplation and impressions. It’s a state of being that keeps us actively pursuing new ideas, enriching experiences and connection.
I remember being a teenager when an elderly woman befriended my family. She lived in a care home around the corner and would walk over to visit regularly. She became part of our extended family, and I found her fascinating because she possessed such boundless joy that I didn’t sense in the other adults in my life.
What I recognize now, in hindsight, is that she was acutely curious and constantly open to new experiences. And my guess is, it was a conscious decision on her part. I never once heard her complain about her life, she only exuded appreciation. I’ve never forgotten her, nor her remarkable ability to seek wonder in her declining years.
A few years ago, a series of circumstances changed my life. I suffered a significant bout of anxiety and in order to recover, I began to look at how I could rearrange my life and my outlook to still feel like life was worth living.
I discovered how to find joy in my small life, just as that amazing woman had modeled for me years ago. Although she has been gone for decades, I remembered her, and she became my guide. And now, I am passing along what I learned.
I began to spend much of my time alone. Retreating into my thoughts, I started writing about them. I spent hours hiking the hills allowing the natural world to entice me. A peaceful solo walk among the trees became a morning meditation, and it set the mood for the upcoming day.
Bringing my focus to small details, slowed me down and opened my eyes to how amazing the world around me really is. I sat on the hillside and rather than looking out over the vista. I looked down, examining the lichen on the tree trunks, noticing the tiny insects ,busy foraging for food, and inhaling the delicate fragrance of a spring morning after the rain.
All those things touched and delighted me when I finally allowed them to. I marveled at the vibrant life that was going on without me ever noticing, and the more I focused on it, the more amazing it became.
I practiced seeing things that normally slipped by me. Every day, I reminded myself to look up at the sky, to wake up in time to watch the sun rise while sipping my morning coffee, or notice the birds singing outside my window.
I’m convinced that noticing is the gateway to joy and gratitude. Just notice to start, and watch the way it brings up appreciation and a sense of delight.
As I searched for more and more reasons to savor the contents of my own life and world, I realized when I shared my thoughts, most people not only didn’t appreciate what I was trying to do, they actively attempted to move me in other directions.
I felt as though I was being condemned for being open to the possibility of a new way of immersing myself in my own life. So, I learned to choose very carefully in whom I confided.
This is hard. I won’t pretend it’s not. But like a muscle that has atrophied and is being strained again, it eventually gets stronger, and with time the movement becomes easier until it is actually effortless. I felt better after a few months, but the real improvement came after about a year. Suddenly, I was waking up every morning with a list of things to which to look forward.
I began to reward myself with pleasure, an ice cream cone on a warm summer day, an afternoon to do what I wanted no matter how frivolous, a spontaneous trip to the ocean with a girlfriend. And if there was no one to enjoy my pleasure with me, I enjoyed it solo. It felt awkward at first to do things unescorted, but now, I truly relish those times.
I realized I was uninspired and assumed I’d accomplished all I was going to. That left me feeling empty and without purpose. So, I watched programs and read articles about places I’ve never been and tried to learn new things regularly. I took up hobbies that were new to me; things I had dismissed years ago claiming I wasn’t good at them.
I followed any spark of interest to see if it caught fire with my attention. I started mountain biking again, learned to bake bread; bought some inexpensive watercolors supplies and started painting. I didn’t expect any of these endeavors to become my life’s work. They were a lark, an experiment, a chance for me to explore the possible. And they brought me joy.
I’m not saying my life is now without challenges and disappointments. But I am saying, for the most part, even though my circumstances haven’t changed all that much, after shifting my outlook and cultivating a sense of wonder, my life is definitely worth living.
What keeps you going every day? Are there things you’re curious about and would like to explore? How do you keep your curiosity engaged? What small things do you appreciate? How do they bring you joy? Please share with the community!
Tags Finding Happiness