Useful Thinking: “Curiosity is the Opposite of Depression”

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The Good Life Project podcast has been sitting, undisturbed, in my iTunes account and on my iPhone for weeks. It was an impulse subscribe, just browsing the titles one night while sitting on the couch, avoiding writing. But, it’s been a couple of days since I’ve synced my phone and this evening I was all out of new episodes of other shows, so I decided to give it a try.

Host Jonathan Fields sounded familiar – I’m pretty sure I saw him speak at a conference a couple of years ago – and introduced his guest as hotel visionary and world-traveling festival guru Chip Conley. It took about four minutes to have me hooked. Conley, who has packed more into his life than most groups of five people, said something that literally, instantly changed the way I felt.

“I think curiosity is the opposite of depression,” said Conley. He went on to say that those who are curious, who explore their lives can’t be depressed. Depression is about introspection and introversion. Curiosity, by its nature, requires leading a life outside of themselves.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been depressed in the clinical sense, but there have been more times than not that I’ve felt overwhelmed and shiftless, where I’ve caught myself living in my own head. It’s hard to pinpoint these times outside the moment they are happening because they are so unremarkable. Conversely, my favorite moments are driven by curiosity – learning new things, exploring new places and, most excitingly, considering, imagining and dreaming up what’s possible. I feel alive in a whole different way in those moments, truly alive. Not merely existing, but living.

Later in the same interview, Conley quoted Abraham Maslow, famed sociologist and the creator of the eponymous Hierarchy of Need, who said that in between stimulus and response, there is a space. That space, Conley said, is where our decisions lay. Unlike our prehistoric ancestors, whose only choice was an instinctive dance between Fight, Flight or Freeze, modernity offers us the relative safety and comfort to choose how we respond to stimulus.

It’s a powerful idea. I think too often my, and others’, space is too narrow. I know I’m guilty of letting that space all but disappear. I react too quickly. Tighten my mind and go with whatever my gut churns out. Had I ever heard of the space between ideal, I might well have been able to condition myself to seek that space. But I don’t think it’s too late. I’m going to work on identifying that space in times of struggle – stress at work, tension in my personal life – and times of ease and apply a choiceful jaws of life to open that space; to find perspective in the struggle and enjoyment in the ease.

So what do these two ideas have to do with one another? Well, for me they could not be more related. I’ve been going through a lot of work stress and been feeling the pressure of unmet expectations – my expectations, my pressure, my stress. And, lately, I haven’t been dealing with it all that well. I’ve been responding instead of seeing the space between, the stimulus, the break, the response. I’m happiest, most satisfied when I’m curious. That’s just what I need to do – respond to stimulus with purposeful curiosity.

That’s the antidote to depression and anxiety and a really useful way of thinking.

What’s your curiosity? How do you like to explore? And how do you fill the space between stimulus and response? Tell me in the comments or reach me in the contact section.

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