My daughter Zoey and I are walking to the park down the street from where we live. I suppose I should use the word walking loosely, because Zoey never really just puts one foot in front of the other; her momentum always seems to come from a series of leaps and twirls and skips and hops and the occasional hip shake. It seems that for Zoey, she is destined to float and dance through life.
She runs ahead of me and propels herself into a leap, and after a brief airborne suspension, Zoey lands, one foot at a time, squarely into a puddle. As it splashes around her, Zoey laughs and lifts her head and arms in joy for sticking her landing.
“A perfect 10!” I say as I catch up to her.
Since it is almost summer, the late afternoon sun is still high enough that it’s able to dance across her cheeks. It is streaming down from a cloudless azure sky, one that Zoey stands blinking up at, one that has blissfully and momentarily stopped her in her tracks.
“Why is the sky blue?” she asks, curiosity beaming from her eyes.
I can’t immediately recall the real reason, so without even thinking, I reach into my back pocket and slip out my iPhone to look up the answer. But in that moment, before the little glass circle can read my fingerprint, I pause. Here I stand, a world of overwhelming information at my fingertips, but I have to wonder:
Will the quick scientific answer I will easily find in seconds kill her curiosity instead of cultivate it?
* * *
Back in 2007, Princeton economist Alan Krueger and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahnemana published a paper called “Are We Having More Fun Yet?”. In it, they posed these questions:
- Have the social progress, economic prosperity, and technological advancements of the past 50 years changed the quality of our lives?
- Have these new opportunities allowed us to spend more time doing what we care about most, thus increasing our satisfaction and meaning in life?
I think it’s safe to say that for most, the answer to the first question is “yes,” Certainly the years have seen a quality-of-life shift. But has our quality of life improved, or has it actually diminished by all of the so-called “advancements”? To that point, I would say many would answer the second question with a disgruntled “no.”
Generally speaking, our time is spent doing unsatisfying work activities and chores and then decompressing by engaging in activities that could be considered mindless (i.e. snacking, watching TV, messing around online, or “doing nothing.”) Because of this, we actually spend less time engaged in enjoyable and meaningful activities—spending time with loved ones, creating, discovering new things, or simply just playing.
Yet, regardless of what generation we are from and what technology has been readily available to us, there was a time in all of our lives when we did engage in more of these meaningful activities:
Although I do appreciate the fact that I can find the answer to almost anything in a matter of seconds on my phone, I’m often nostalgic for the time of my life when the answers weren’t readily available, when I was able to wonder about things for just a little bit longer. As a child, the act of being curious was something that felt almost decadent. I was recently reminded of this when I recreated my mother’s magical fairies for my daughter. Zoey didn’t ask me for the real reason why they appeared, and I didn’t search for the scientific explanation of how the sunshine refracted off my watch crystal to create the sharp drops of light dancing across our ceiling. We simply sat there in that moment together, enjoying the wonder above us, our imaginations bursting with fanciful ideas and questions and made-up answers.
* * *
Think about the last time you were curious about something: Did you pull out your phone and Google your question? And when you found the answer, did your curiosity simply stop?
When was the last time you actively wondered about something and used your imagination to come up with an answer or two? Was it yesterday? A month ago? Years ago? Back when you were a kid?
Curiosity, which is a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something, creates openness to unfamiliar experiences. Being open to new things provides us with greater opportunities to experience discovery, joy, and delight. And when we experience more discovery, joy, and delight in our lives, all of a sudden, our lives become so much more meaningful. And, as we all know, meaningful lives are satisfying lives, and satisfying lives are happier lives.
So the next chance you get, keep your phone in your pocket and stay curious for a little longer. This simple, nostalgic act could very well help you on your journey to start creating a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life.
* * *
“Why is the sky blue?”
Zoey is looking at me, waiting for my answer. I put my phone away, sit down on the sidewalk, and look up at the wide expanse above us. Zoey plops down beside me.
“You know what?” I say, “I can’t remember. Why do you think the sky is blue?”
Zoey keeps looking up as she ponders this.
“Well,” she says, her thoughts causing her brow to scrunch up. “The only logical explanation is that black and yellow make blue.”
“Wait, what? Black and yellow don’t make blue, honey,” I say laughing. And even though I know they really don’t, I do find myself doing a quick scroll through my own color theory knowledge.
“But, mom,” Zoey says, “The night sky is black, and then the yellow sun comes up, so those two colors must combine to make the day blue.”
I smile at Zoey’s logic. Her answer makes me happy that my phone is tucked away in my back pocket.
Had I Googled the question and found the answer and told Zoey that the sky is blue because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter red light, our conversation might have just ended there. But I didn’t, so we are still sitting next to one another on that sidewalk. Cars drive by us, the people inside surely wonder what we’re looking at, but we don’t care.
We sit there together, our eyes tilted toward the sky, appreciating the unknown for a little while. Then our pondering turn silly—”God must get really good pricing on blue paint!”—but to me, this is ten times better than looking up the real answer right now, because we are together, marveling at that incredible blue sky, having a conversation, and making a connection. Wavelengths of new memories are being created right now: we are making it so that one day Zoey will get asked this question again, and she will remember this moment, one where black and yellow met to make blue.
Today and always, this is something I want to work toward: making and keeping our world full of wonder and curiosity. And, because of this, I know—without a doubt—that our lives will be infinitely more magical and beautiful. And that knowledge doesn’t come from any Google search—it comes from us: in who we are, in what we do, in what we experience, and in every last thing we notice, pay attention to, and wonder about.
* * *
Talk to Us: How do you stay curious in a world that makes it hard to do so?
Week 20 Suggested Reading
In Curious, Ian Leslie makes a passionate case for the cultivation of our “desire to know.” Just when the rewards of curiosity have never been higher, it is misunderstood, undervalued, and increasingly monopolized by a cognitive elite. A “curiosity divide” is opening up.
This divide is being exacerbated by the way we use the Internet. Thanks to smartphones and tools such as Google and Wikipedia, we can answer almost any question instantly. But does this easy access to information guarantee the growth of curiosity? No—quite the opposite. Leslie argues that true curiosity the sustained quest for understanding that begets insight and innovation—is in fact at risk in a wired world.
Drawing on fascinating research from psychology, economics, education, and business, Curious looks at what feeds curiosity and what starves it, and finds surprising answers. Curiosity isn’t, as we’re encouraged to think, a gift that keeps on giving. It is a mental muscle that atrophies without regular exercise and a habit that parents, schools, and workplaces need to nurture. — Pulled from Amazon.com description
Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At the The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.