Have you ever met people who, simply put, were uninteresting? Perhaps it was because they only wanted to talk about themselves. Or maybe, they talked about only one subject–sports, politics, sex or some other very limited and limiting domain. Perhaps they clearly had no interest in you, and they repeatedly interrupted you in mid-sentence. Or they might have been gloomy, pessimistic people. Whatever the reason, you quickly found yourself stifling a yawn and suppressing an urge to just walk away.
What makes people interesting? Liveliness? A wealth of life experiences? Story-telling skills? Colorfulness? Idiosyncrasies? Humor? Education? No doubt all of these qualities and more make people interesting, but I believe there is one overriding factor. People who show a genuine interest in you are the most interesting people! Why is this so? I believe people who show genuine interest in you, are likely to be interested in most facets of life. We could say, interesting people are curious people.
Did Curiosity Really Kill the Cat?
Yes, I am sure curiosity killed a few cats, but I am also sure curiosity led many cats to new food sources, new adventures, and new social contacts! Like cats, most children are naturally curious, and encouraging rather than stifling their curiosity is very important. One of my favorite series of children’s books growing up was written by Margaret and H.A. Rey about Curious George, an orphaned, young monkey whose curiosity leads him into all sorts of predicaments and challenges, but somehow, with help from the man in the yellow hat, he always lands on his feet. First published in 1941, since then Curious George has entertained and endeared several generations of children due to continuous reprintings of the books and three animated movies beginning in 2006.
Like all significant psychological concepts, curiosity has cognitive/emotional and behavioral components. The cognitive/emotional component can best be described as having a strong and persistent desire to know and/or experience more about most everything. Intense curiosity can lead to wonder, delight, surprise, discovery, and even enlightenment! The behavioral component of curiosity is inquisitiveness in the forms of frequently asking questions, initiating research, and seeking and engaging in new and novel activities– it is this last part of curiosity that may have caused a few cats to meet their demise!
Cultivate Your Curiosity
If you want to be an interesting person, become interested. By this, I mean deliberately nourish your curiosity. Start by establishing a mindset we in psychology call “openness to experience.” This means maintaining a heightened level of interest in everyone (including yourself) and everything around you. It’s like turning on your radar and setting it for a continuous, 360 degrees scanning mode. It is the exact opposite of tunnel vision.
I have a gardener who comes once a week. He was employed by the previous owner and we kept him on. He has been with us for 3 years now. At first, I was not so sure we would keep him. I noticed upon his arrival, here, rather than go right to work, he would walk to the top of the outdoor steps, stand there with his hands behind his back, and scan the yard. I thought this might be a bit of a waste of time, However, today I see the value of his inquisitiveness because he notices everything that goes on in the yard. He tells us if there is new ant activity we need to pay attention to, or which plants are going to need more fertilizer, or when the bananas will be ready to pick. Nothing escapes his curious gaze!
Nurturing your curiosity means asking a lot of questions, and one particularly effective question is “I wonder. . . ?” What is incredible is today most people have at their fingertips a device that will answer almost all “I wonder. . . ?” questions. It is called a cell phone. Back when I was in graduate school, there were no search engines at my fingertips. If I wanted to find a specific psychological study to support a position in a paper I was writing, I had to go to the library–and what a cumbersome process that was at times! Now, as I write articles for this blog, all I have to do is ask the right question and almost instantly I find what I am looking for. Like Xerox in the past, another corporate name has become a verb–google. There is no day that passes without me “googling” something.
Nurturing your curiosity is also apt to stimulate your creativity because most creative thinking begins with asking questions–particularly divergent questions. (See “The Art of Creative Thinking.”) Divergent questions are open-ended questions that prompt you to speculate, inquire, consider, and explore, all of which make you a more interesting person.
A Person of Interest
I found the above phrase used by law enforcement in relation to a sensational explosion that recently happened in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. Rather than saying they had a suspect, law enforcement stated they had “a person of interest.” I like this phrase because I believe every person is a person of interest. Everyone has an interesting story to tell, and most people are eager to share their stories and whatever body of knowledge they have. I am uncomfortable with most generalizations, but I have noticed a lot of millennials do not show much interest in other people. For example, when I have met some millennials who tell me they have an interest in pursuing a career in psychology or have just started a career, I share with them that I had a private practice in psychology for 35+ years. Remarkably, the exchange stops right there! No questions asked!
So, be that person who sees everyone as a person of interest. You can learn something from everyone you meet. I assure you if you do, your life will be enriched, expanded, inspired and deepened in ways you cannot anticipate, and with that, you will become an interesting person!!