Have you ever wished you were a more curious person?
While most people think of curiosity as a personality trait—something some people have and others just don’t—I don’t think this is true at all.
Everybody is born curious in their own way. But unfortunately, for many people that curiosity gets discouraged at an early age.
My hope is that these quotes about curiosity—along with my own brief thoughts on them—encourage you to think a little different about curiosity. And that you start to see it as something you can foster and cultivate in yourself.
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something.”
— T.H. White
Sadness, fear, shame, anger… none of these difficult emotions are something we ever get rid of. It’s human nature to feel bad sometimes.
But if we’re going to get on with our lives despite how we feel, a passion for learning sure helps.
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
The metaphors we live by matter.
Our dominant metaphor for learning and education is file downloads.
Imagine what society would look like if we really believed and lived by Plutarch’s metaphor for learning?
Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.
― Samuel Johnson
I believe you can tolerate any feeling—no matter how painful—if it’s sandwiched between two thick slices of curiosity.
What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within the span of his little life by him who interests his heart in everything.
― Laurence Sterne
I love this idea: Your heart’s desire is not something you inherit; it’s something you cultivate.
I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.
― Eleanor Roosevelt
As much as it weirds me out to imagine Eleanor Roosevelt dressed up like one of the fairy godmothers from Sleeping Beauty hovering over my daughters and waving her magic curiosity wand…
…it’s hard to imagine a better gift.
I am afraid that our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and that we have more curiosity than understanding. We grasp at everything, but catch nothing except wind.
― Michel de Montaigne
Raw curiosity isn’t enough. It has to be channeled, cultivated, and harnessed—all without discouraging it or snuffing it out.
Curiosity is the engine of achievement.
― Ken Robinson
Isn’t it a little insane that people who write about productivity never seem to mention curiosity?
There isn’t a single accomplishment in my life that wasn’t seen through to the end primarily because I was curious.
I don’t understand people who try to be productive without being curious.
No one asks how to motivate a baby. A baby naturally explores everything it can get at, unless restraining forces have already been at work. And this tendency doesn’t die out, it’s wiped out.
― B.F. Skinner
Parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, therapists, managers, leaders… We all need to be far conscientious about how easy it is to destroy curiosity in the people we’re responsible for.
Curiosity is priceless. Which means we should view losing it as a travesty to be avoided at all costs.
Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead.
― Susan Sontag
Inspiration and approval are overrated. While few things are as underrated as simply following your nose.
Value judgments are destructive to our proper business, which is curiosity and awareness.
― John Cage
I think value judgments have their place. But surely we’d all be better off if we were a little (okay, a lot) less judgmental and far more curious.
Love is curiosity sometimes. Concentrated wondering about the other one.
― Kij Johnson
Curiosity is concentrated wonder. And love is wonder in another person.
A mind not agitated by good questions cannot appreciate the significance of even the best answers.
― Mortimer J. Adler
The unspoken idea here is that in order to arrive at both good questions and good answers, you have to be okay with your mind being agitated.
So many people miss out on the wonders of curiosity because they’re afraid to let their minds be a little agitated.
When people don’t have any curiosity about themselves, that is always a bad sign.
— Irvin D. Yalom
As a therapist, I’ve found that curiosity is pretty well correlated with good outcomes for my clients, while a lack of curiosity is usually a risk factor.
Lasting change often requires deep understanding. And it’s hard to get to deep understanding without curiosity.
The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is curiosity.
— Edmund Burke
Take a moment to seriously consider what would your life would look like if curiosity remained your primary and most powerful emotion?
Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
— e. e. cummings
It seems to me this is a two-way street: Sure, self-belief makes it easier to be curious; but I think curiosity makes it easier to believe in yourself.
When you stop being curious, you ignore your own interests and desires, which teaches your brain that what you want doesn’t matter. Hard to believe in yourself if that’s the lesson you go around teaching yourself every day.
On the other hand, if you regularly indulge your curiosity, you’re reminding your brain of the fact opposite: what I want matters and is good. I’d bet good money self-belief wouldn’t be far behind that habit.
If you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.
— Elizabeth Gilbert
Passion is a bit intimidating. But perhaps so is curiosity for some people.
How about this: start with interest.
Cultivate your interests and curiosity will follow; cultivate your curiosities and they may grow into passions.
To be curious about that which is not one’s concern while still in ignorance of oneself is absurd.
One of the marks of genuine curiosity is that it doesn’t discriminate; it’s limitless and boundless not rejecting any topic or focus—the self included.
Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.
I don’t know who said this, but I want to give them a big hug.
Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
Judge yourself by your questions, not by your answers (or lack thereof).
Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.
— James Stephens
As someone who helps people work through fear for a living, I’ve come to believe this more and more.
You can’t get rid of fear directly. But you can put it in its place by cultivating your curiosity and the values it drives you toward.
A Final Thought
I hope these ideas have encouraged you to think a little differently about curiosity: what it really is, why it matters, and how to cultivate it in your own life.
Because aside from the many benefits that come from curiosity, a curious mind is really its own reward: pleasurable, exciting, and infinitely interesting.