3 min read

curiosity is the antidote to boredom and existential dread

i read an article that to me seemed to say seek curiosity, not purpose.

i liked the examples in it:

Bill, a man living by the sea, is a surfboard ding repairer. He was 78 when I met him. Bill has a pure curiosity about life. When he hears something new, he would go and find out about it by reading, asking questions, contemplating things over stories, and trying to understand it with genuine thoughts.

Once Bill learned Indonesian Bahasa, by dictionary and videos, then he went to Indonesia to speak the language. He still speaks the language, although nobody around him speaks this language. Every time we talk, Bill has something he is reading and trying to understand. He brings the questions up, hoping to get some new information. I am intrigued by this constant urge to learn, the pure satisfaction of seeing or imagining new things. Bill often laughs and always has something to do for fun.

Doing things for fun is often not justifiable. When I tell people that I wrote a book for fun, they don't believe me. They shrug it off and emphasize that I must have some passion or agenda to write 200 pages on a topic. I also noticed that this is the most unimpressive answer a writer should make. The statement also feels offending serious readers, thinking I have a cause to serve. So I started making things up; I write for a cause; I write with passion; I write for my childhood. Everybody is happy with the answer as if someone should SERVE something, not their muse.
Some years ago, I left home for a year trip to South America. I met this man on the trip. He was famous among his friends for leaving home at 16, asking sailing boats or ships for a ride, and exchanging his work on board. "I want to see the world. The world is such a beautiful place. I want to meet people and see them in the eyes." He returned home when he was 30 and established his family with a loving woman.

When I visited, he was collecting giant old clocks thrown away by demolished plazas or buildings. He fixed them and brought them back to life. He learned to fix them by himself. His house has an elephant made of light rope and old scraps he found. It was a magnificent piece of furniture decoration in the house. I was delighted to watch this man recognize joy in everything he touched. He didn't get old, although he was 82 when I met him. Aging firstly is a state of mind; the state of the body follows.

I also found this example from another article inspiring:

On a page from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks is a to-do list:

  • Calculate the measurement of Milan and its suburbs
  • Find a book that treats of Milan its churches, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cordusio.
  • Discover the measurement of the Corte Vecchio [courtyard of the duke’s palace].
  • Get the Master of Arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle.
  • Ask Bendetto Portinari [a Florentine merchant] by what means they go on ice at Flanders?
  • Draw Milan.
  • Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night.
  • Examine the crossbow of Maestro Gianetto.
  • Find a Master of Hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill, in the Lombard manner.
  • Ask about the measurement of the sun, promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese

Take away lesson: Not only are Leonardo’s interests wide ranging, but out of the fifteen tasks on his list, at least eight involve consulting with others, and two involve others’ books. “Montaigne wrote of how travel to different regions and countries allows us to ‘rub and polish our brains’ against others, and Leonardo seems keen to polish his brain against as many others as possible.”

imo it's hard to be depressed or feel a lack of meaning when your curiosity flame is blazing.

but it's not easy to be curious, especially as you get older. the novelty of life fades.

some possible approaches:

  • enjoy the nuance in life
  • notice what interests you and follow it
  • cultivate a beginner's mind
  • ask yourself what is interesting in any given situation
  • ask questions
  • go down rabbit holes
  • make a bucket list/curiosity list like Da Vinci. have projects and do them
  • consume interesting content, be around interesting people, in interesting places

i don't know too well how to operationalize the importance of curiosity in my life yet. but i'll try different things and report back