The Opportunity of Limited Curiosity

“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.” ― Oscar Wilde

We are a curious people. We desire to know ourselves, to understand the world, to relate to those around us, and to learn new skills. This is good curiosity. We ought to encourage it in our children and in ourselves. After all, when we lose our curiosity about life, we take our first step away from influencing it.

I am certainly not against curiosity.

But I am against being curious about everything. And I am all for a limited approach. I am a supporter of intentionally discerning what is appropriate to be curious about. Because you can not grow in one area of life if you are curious about all.

There is freedom to be found in limited curiosity. And there is actually greater opportunity to be found in limiting it than can be found in letting it run unchecked.

Our world has become a constant feed of information and entertainment. And without an intentional, limited approach to curiosity, our minds are left to wander into all areas of society that do not directly concern us. These wanderings keep us from effectiveness. Consider for just a moment some of the things we may concern ourselves with during any given day:

  • Celebrity gossip.
  • Intimate life details of old friends/neighbors.
  • Accomplishments/failures of others.
  • Entertainment television/news.
  • Political affairs.
  • Technological rumors.
  • Scandals.

Our information age has made unbridled curiosity a constantly available distraction. With a simple click of the mouse or swipe of the thumb, we are instantly transported into a world that will gladly meet our every questioning. They will encourage us to seek them out. When we do, they will encourage us to concern our minds with more affairs outside our control. And in so doing, we lose all track of the immediate, beautiful world right in front of us.

We would be wise to limit our curiosity. We simply don’t need to know all that we want to know. Instead, we ought to concern ourselves with the potential and the relationships that have been entrusted to us. We would live lives of far greater significance if we did.

Image: Bailey Rae Weaver

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    I could not agree more on the celebrity/entertainment “news” part. I firmly believe it is one of our greatest distractors in this society. However, I also think we should be informed of political affairs. I think when we lose focus, we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. I also think that if we choose to be in the know of political affairs, it’s also our duty to get involved. We live in a democracy, and the whole point is for the government to be run by the people. However, curiosity wanes, and we allow others to make important decisions for our country/state/city/county. I think staying current with the issues at hand is part of our duty as American citizens (can you tell I was raised with a poli. sci. teacher & politician dad?!)

    • says

      Thanks Megyn. I’m not against being informed about political parties, philosophies, or candidates. I do think those issues affect us. And in our country, these are issues upon which we can enact influence. But I do think unbridled curiosity into irrelevant issues concerning politics can be more distracting than helpful – that’s why I put it on the list. Perhaps I should have been more specific.

  2. says

    I think one issue is also mistrust. We don’t trust that we’ll be OK if we don’t know what is going on all the time. IMO this is so evident with people who are on their cell phones and Facebook constantly communicating their every move and who must talk with someone during every moment — including in the bathroom!

    I go away by myself on weekends and check in with my spouse once a day with a ten minute call. People I know think that’s bad — and are shocked that I don’t care what he’s doing when I’m not around (he’s a big boy). When I first started dating my husband I told him not to expect me to be the type of girl who would call and ask “whatcha doing? whatcha thinking?”

    I believe part of the issue is that too many people have an inflated sense of self worth and part of the problem is they have to interject themselves into the world constantly too.

  3. says

    I found your points about being curious in a limited manner, really interesting. To me, my curiosity has always been a winning point for me, but now that I think about it, my focus has always been myself. Curiosity about where I am in life, where I am going, how I do things, why I do things the way I do them, and so on. I like to be able to tell that the reason I am doing certain things is because I have certain triggers inside of me. Celebrities, politics and a lot of world events are not included in my path of curiosity. Fortunately or unfortunately, only time will tell.

  4. Zen Presence says

    I’ve never really thought about it from this angle. Interesting. I’ve always subscribed to the belief that the more curious the better, but I can see your point. I guess in a way I limit my curiosity by not watching television, not reading mainstream media, etc…

    Thanks for the insight,
    Dan @ ZenPresence.com

  5. says

    I am a big believer in limiting curiosity in this way. I haven’t watched or read the news for about 10 years. Instead I trust that if I need to know something that it will come to me through friends or through the specific blogs I read. The one exception to this is before an election, at which point I seek out information through web searches and talking with friends. I’ve found my life to be much more pleasant and significantly less stressful since eliminating news from my life, and can’t think of something important that I’ve missed because of it.

    • Glenn says

      Lia I am very interested In your comment. Someone asked me a few weeks ago about a news story that had been very prominent for about two days at that time. When I told them I had not heard of it, they couldn’t believe it. But that got me to thinking… With the exception of weather and traffic reports, when was the last time I heard something on the news that caused me to do something differently that day. The answere for me was 9/11. Since then, all I get from the news is stress. Doesn’t seem like a good investment of Tim e to me. I’d be interested in your and others comments.

      • says

        Hi Glenn. The reason I stopped watching the news was because it was making me stressed. At the time I was starting a new theatre company, raising a toddler, and trying to make my creative practice my main source of income. A yoga teacher suggested I eliminate the news from my life and see how it changed me. And change me it did. I use the opportunity of someone being shocked that I don’t know about a news story to tell them WHY I don’t watch the news, and use the proof of them telling me the news as an example of why I don’t need to seek it out elsewhere. I did hear the news on 9/11 because my husband got a message from his brother to check the news. The only other time my lack of news-watching affected me was during the Phuket tsunami. We were in Thailand at the time, but on the other side of the peninsula so were out of the wave’s path. We found out about it via our employers calling our hotel from Japan (where we had been teaching english) to see if we were okay. We then contacted our parents in Canada to let them know all was well – 24 hours after the tsunami hit.

        News is stressful – it builds on our fears. I’ve been keeping up-to-date with Hurricane Sandy via friends who live in NYC. Personal accounts are much more meaningful than any spin the media takes on any news story.

  6. says

    I’ve just recently begun my simplicity journey and I’ve been focusing on the more palpable issues like de-cluttering and simple foods. I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of wasting valuable time seeking celebrity gossip in the past. Your post has really got me thinking about how we can simplify not just the physical world we live in but more intangible “things” as well. Thanks!

  7. Meg B. says

    You are now officially my favorite minimalist/simplicity writer. My husband lives (did I mention L-I-V-E-S) to watch and read what I call “gossip news”. Not to get too personal, but if others are reading this who do the same thing, you are ignoring what is right there – YOUR FAMILY. When you let all of this outside gossip rule your life, you never honestly interact with your spouse or family. The TV must be on during meals…that is, if he even bother to sit down with the family for a meal. When company comes, he turns on the TV so he doesn’t miss anything. He must check the computer each morning and each night…quiet times when perhaps his wife (ME!) would like a bit of attention. Don’t get me wrong – I love the fellow. I just believe he is on the wrong path.

    I have your book, “Simplify”. Now, just to encourage you to continue enlightening others, I’m going to order “Living with Less”.

    And, finally, I appreciate that you are such a Godly family-man!

    From an old(er) lady currently in Tennessee,
    Meg B.

  8. Meg B. says

    P.S. I also have your book, “Inside-Out Simplicity”. I recommend ALL of them to anyone interested in living a life filled with meaning.

  9. says

    Very great post….this really resonates with me. It’s something I’m often concerned about in others and actively note in myself. I always fight with myself about checking my facebook ‘just in case’ someone’s trying to reach me… endless internet browsing…I’ve even gotten to the point of checking the craigslist ‘wanted’ section, which, granted is somewhat useful since I’m simplifying my possessions and if someone happens to list an item I have that I’m already tossing, why not? But, all told, the amount of time I spend ‘checking’ could have been spent out on a jog, or meditating in a forest or hell, even on my back porch at sunset! Unbridled anything tends to be bad and this is something our society has completely lost conception of. We’re told everyday (I think intentionally) to be ‘free, open to everything, curious about everything, in the know about everything.’ Well, if we’re pursuing this much ‘openness’ to life, how are we afforded any time to actually DO anything? Good points to ponder. Thanks for this post!

  10. says

    Curiosity is a beautiful trait, one I cherish. You just don’t have to know everything! Thanks for sharing this Joshua. Great pointers. I find that living unplugged (no TV nor cellphone) greatly helps. If I want to know about the latest news, I’ll have to buy a newspaper, or find an internet connection somewhere.

  11. Neil says

    “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”
    - Thomas Jefferson

  12. Angelique says

    Great post! This resonates highly with me. The ones you listed aren’t my problem though; rather, I’m a “how-to” junkie; I want to know how-to-do-lots-of-stuff and nearly all of my “liked” Facebook pages reflect that – almost 100 of them (and that doesn’t even count bookmarked websites)! The real challenge for me is that I’m so busy reading all these great how-to blogs, articles, sites, books, etc….that I rarely actually get around to DOING any of those projects and even more rarely finish the ones that I start. I don’t need to “like” 30 pages on a particular topic when 1 or 2 quality ones will do. Thanks you for this post, it’s exactly what I needed to hear today.

  13. Pam says

    When was the last time it was a popular thing to be curious about the lives and works of great thinkers, artists, composers, scientists, humanitarians, spiritual masters, etc.? The investigation of these avenues of exploration are what I consider appropriate curiousity. How many of us check out the websites for the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Smithsonian Museum for regular edification? How many of us follow up on quotes that resonate with us by learning more about the people who have had such inspiring thoughts and beliefs? How many of us have looked up a topic in the Encyclopedia Britannica since our grade school years when we had to write term papers?

  14. Karen T. says

    Joshua, perfect post, you are absolutely right! That’s how I try to live as well, and it’s good to have a succinct reminder of WHY. Also, to everyone who responded, your additional comments were also very inspiring!

  15. says

    Thank you for putting my thoughts into writing! I encourage clients to limit their areas of interest in the spirit of reducing clutter. When you want to know about everything, you amass lots of information that has to be stored somewhere. I remind clients that there is always new information coming out and that no one has the time to spend trying to keep up with it all.

    To paraphrase your post: Iinstead of spending time with information, spend it with people.

  16. says

    I was literally just thinking about how setting boundaries on what we let into our lives is absolutely necessary, when I clicked on this post in my Reader.

    Austin Kleon said in his book Steal Like an Artist, “You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life” and it got me thinking about all the things that I was choosing to let into my life.

    A lot like our unbridled curiosity, if we don’t put some reigns on it, it will drive us mad.

    Great stuff, Josh!

  17. says

    soooo true! :0 and when you said celebrity gossip, i stepped back for a sec. because celeb gossip is everywhere and you don’t have to search it on google, it comes to you. through people and on the sidelines of web pages. And IT’S SO USELESS. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read such USELESSNESS IN MY LIFE!! :) Even Dr. Seuss is more relevant than this.
    -p.s, I’m 15…

  18. Abigail says

    I have a coffee table book of quotes and reflections. One of them refers to only partaking in “gourmet media” and limiting what you allow in. That expression has always stayed with me and when I feel like I get away from that way of being and start taking in the junk food of information overload, I scale back and evaluate the quality of what I’m reading, watching, listening to, etc. I agree with Angelique’s earlier comment. The productivity/how-to stuff is my muse. Obviously, not a bad thing to learn new things but keeping it in perspective and balance is key. Really enjoyed this post!! Thank you.

  19. Karen says

    I generally appreciate your posts, even ones I disagree with, but have found this one irritating. You are all for determining “what is appropriate to be curious about.”
    Who will decide that for another? Who would be “appropriate?”

    I realize I am being judgmental myself when I say that unless you are to expound on how some of these things (like gossip) can actually be harmful to others, stick to encouraging your readers toward minimizing distraction, and setting priorities of focus, as a minimalist approach to life– rather than judging what’s “appropriate” for someone else.

    • Karen says

      To clarify: I am not a gossip & entertainment hound. I am expressing concern about the notion that someone else can decide what is “appropriate.” For example, if you were to decide that my interest in dog training is “inappropriate,” I would find that intrusive.

  20. Jimbo99 says

    While I’ll agree that being a minimalist is a great choice for living your life, it doesn’t necessarily work in certain professions. Take Technology/IT. Chasing that in any given area, you’ll find someone will require you to know hardware & software. And once you’ve been sucked into it, you become a slave to it. A few months later, you can throw it all out the window because the product lines have changed.

  21. Kristi says

    Spot On! When curiosity pulls you away from what’s important, all perspective can be lost. If you’re sitting with your laptop open and watching tv you’re missing the life that happens right under your nose. For the sake of curiosity or being a know-it-all, the price isn’t worth it.

  22. Dodie says

    You forgot one that is very important: morbid curiosity. I have never seen a time when people are more interested in seeing violence, watching beheadings, looking at pictures of people torturing animals, etc. Even the recent acts of violence where people are grabbing strangers and knocking them out just for the fun of it has become its own media draw. I am becoming more and more careful about what I put in my mind. I don’t want to live with my head in the sand, but I don’t need the images of violence in my mind. Once there, they are impossible to remove. I’m guarding my heart and my mind so that I can choose peace.

  23. Gus says

    This is great and touched on something I’ve been working through my mind for quite some time. Also the following comments regarding the news specifically are worth an essay of their own. I found that not reading or watching the news was the key for me to get out of a depression. Because I am an empathetic person, reading tragic stories was traumatizing me as if I had lived the tragedy myself in some small way and I kept reading the news and living this stress several times every single day. I didn’t realize it at the time. It’s kind if morbid that we entertain ourself with the tragedy of others. Some might call it informing themselves but we don’t need to know this information for any practical purpose which to me makes it a form of entertainment.

    • John says

      I get that too – I am the one who always cries at movies and when watching the news. I had to stop most of my news viewing because I was constantly depressed. It seems that nowadays every little event has to be torn apart and reviewed to death – if nothing else but to fill air time.

      Now, I check the news once or twice a day, on the web, where I can touch on the highlights, but have a better command of what I see and hear.

  24. John says

    I think the difference here is curiosity for the sake of learning and growing verses being a nosey nellie who is more titillated by dirt and gossip. I have always heard that you can only keep 7 things in your conscious mind at one time – I wonder how much space we take up in our heads with unnecessary dribble. TV is the hard one for me – I love watching the History and Discovery channel but find that I only have a couple shows that I really enjoy and mostly have it on for the noise as background when I am on my phone or reading. I think that is the area I need to focus on most.

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