Despite the proverbial warning that “curiosity killed the cat,” curiosity is a trait well worth cultivating. When it’s felt strongly, it drives people to pursue their interests. The successes that follow can be remarkable, as can be seen in the lives of Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, the Wright brothers, and innumerable other historic figures. When you combine curiosity with benevolence – being truly kind and well-meaning – you can not only achieve great accomplishments, but you can nurture compassion, inner peace and self-confidence, and meaningful relationships. Admittedly, this sounds too good to be true. But these benefits are real, and you can achieve them by learning to develop benevolent curiosity.
Curiosity is the desire to learn about the object of your attention. When people are curious, they feel an inherent drive to explore. And the more they learn, the more they often want to know. Because they are actively seeking understanding, they also find and create more meaning in their lives.
If you want to increase your curiosity, begin with paying attention to your experiences. You might choose one or two areas in your life. For instance, you might attend to the process of exercising. Consider what it takes for your body to engage in working out and allow yourself to be fully aware of the sensations in your body as it exercises. Following your curiosity, you may pursue learning more about the human body, nutrition, and physical fitness. If you took a similarly curious perspective about your job, imagine how you might excel at it!
Curiosity can also serve you well when you focus it on your emotions. This is especially true when you are mystified by your reactions to circumstances. In these situations, you can choose to be curious about your emotions, such as anxiety or sadness. You can pay attention to what you sense in your body, allowing yourself to be open to the expression of your emotions on this physical level. As you do this, you will learn to tolerate and explore your mixed emotions, and the many shades of your experiences. Such exploration will help you to better understand, and connect with, yourself.
Benevolence means relating in a positive, well-meaning way. It often flows naturally from empathy. And when someone is suffering, it takes the form of compassion. Benevolent people tend to lead meaningful lives, touch the hearts of those around them, and elicit feelings of admiration.
To develop greater benevolence, it helps to practice empathy. One way to do this is to think about what an acquaintance might be experiencing in a difficult situation. Use what you know about the person to imagine how the circumstance looks like through their eyes. Then try to connect with the emotions they seem to be experiencing. Imagine how you’d feel if you perceived things similarly – even if you actually see this situation differently. For instance, though you might think a friend did not need to feel hurt by their boss’s feedback, consider a time when you did feel hurt by someone’s feedback. This can help you to empathize and feel benevolently toward your friend.
When you are benevolently curious about people’s experiences, you are able learn more about them from a caring perspective. For instance, you’ll want to know more about a particularly positive or negative situation that they are in; think to ask about or listen for significant influences in their history that have affected their thinking and reactions; and more fully relate to their emotions. By understanding them so well, you’ll feel like you really “get” them, and you’ll feel more compassionately toward them. Similarly, benevolent curiosity about yourself can lead you to greater self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-compassion.
Benevolent curiosity translates into success on both personal and professional levels. Your curiosity will power your persistence in developing professionally, pursuing personal goals, and better understanding yourself and others. When combined with benevolence, you will gain greater self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-confidence. You’ll enjoy meaningful relationships with others, who support you in attaining your goals. And you will possess a natural drive to succeed. With all of these benefits, there’s no doubt that benevolent curiosity is a winning formula!
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness