While I’m naturally a very optimistic and curious person who prefers to seek out activity and experiences, in these colder, darker months I have a tendency to adopt hibernation-like behaviors. This means lots of time hanging out at home focusing inward, and less time engaging with the people and world around me. This winter, though, I’ve found a new muse who’s shown me new opportunities for inspiration: my 3-and-a-half-year-old niece!
As adults, we take so many aspects of our day-to-day life for granted. Once we commit to our chosen world view, we instinctively practice social norms and are set in our habits: we forget that these features in life started as novel preferences and choices. From the foods we eat, to the route we take to get to work, to the way our desk is organized, to the music we listen to, it’s easier to stick with our routines and assume there is nothing new to learn or explore even though it may make life seem static and boring.
Little kids aren’t like that. They are still making sense of everything and everyone in their environment, trying figure out the world and their place in it. They take nothing at face value because to them it’s all new and interesting.
If I had to pick one word to describe my niece, it would be curious. She never stops moving and she narrates every thought, question, and emotion that crosses her mind, so you can LITERALLY see and hear her exploring and processing the world around her. And despite her being 36 years my junior, I am learning a lot from her.
Just last week my niece and I were making pasta (or in her words, noo-noos) from scratch. It’s a long and somewhat tedious process, but she was 100% engaged for over an hour (which is like infinity in 3-year-old time) noticing the different textures of the flour, the mess on the counter, the weird noises the pasta maker makes on different settings. She was fascinated by the transformation of the dough from large squishy ball to long flat sheets to fettuccine-shaped noo-noos. She made jokes about the noo-noos being like worms, which led to a free-association about gummy worms and candy.
I was amazed by how much there was to be fascinated by doing an activity I’d done many times before. My niece has showed me that curiosity isn’t just for the young — that it is critical for living a meaningful, engaging, and mindful life.
If you merely take everything at face value, life is like as a series of closed doors shutting you out and keep you where you are. But if you embrace curiosity, each door is a potential new opportunity to experience and grow and learn.
Which path will you choose?