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Joni Mitchell has a song, "Happiness is the best facelift," but curiosity is an equally effective anti-aging device. If you want to stay youthful and energetic, consider the role of curiosity in your life. As kids, many of us were not encouraged to be curious: "Remember, curiosity killed the cat," my grandma told me when I asked too many questions. At the time (age 5) I shut up and obeyed her, but I wish I had replied with, "But Grandma, I'll bet that cat had a fabulous 9 lives before he died."

Curiosity in the world

Curiosity is enthusiasm about your own life and that of others. It's about being out there in the world, not all wrapped up in your neurotic little self. Curiosity is questioning, wondering, and pondering. Reading can be a great way to experience curiosity: you can travel the world and meet the most bizarre and amazing people without leaving your sofa. Travel is another way to express your curiosity about the world. When you go to different places, you leave your comfort zone behind: new people, places, things and customs keep you alert and pose questions like: "Why do they do that?" or "What would I be like if I grew up here?" Curiosity in the world keeps us mentally expanding and growing -- and youthful!

Curiosity about yourself

Besides wondering about others and how they live, it's mentally healthy to wonder about yourself. When you ask yourself questions like:

- Who am I really?
- Who am I today?
- Who did I used to be?
- Who do I want to be in 5, 10 or 15 years?

You literally create new neural patterns in your brain that keep you younger, smarter and healthier. While there is a fine line between self-curiosity and self-obsession (hello narcissists!), it's hard to grow without periodic spells of self-examination (even Madonna said, "an unexamined life is not worth living" in her song lyrics), You can use self-help books, prayer, meditation, psychotherapy and even shopping to explore your curiosity about yourself. Yes, shopping! For example, when you go shopping, how do you define what's really "You"? Do you look at something and think, "I like that shirt/lamp/whatever, but that's just not "me'." This is shopping as a form of self-definition. By saying "yes" or "no" to things you could wear/buy/have, you are asking yourself, "Who am I and what do I think is right for me?" So the next time you go shopping, consciously enjoy your curiosity. Let yourself be amused and perhaps even surprised at how you define yourself.

Passion: curiosity's best friend

I define passion as strong feelings or energy directed towards someone or something. There is a common misconception about passion, that it must be dramatic and over-the-top for it to count. This is bullshit. Passion can be as subtle as watching a spider spin a web at your cubicle at work or noticing the color of the tomato plants on your apartment balcony. We are all passionate beings. You may not think you are, but, dear reader, get over yourself. You may not yet be aware of your passion or expressing it (yet), but it's there.

Often I hear my clients say, "Oh, I wish I felt passionate about something -- my life is just so boring." Even a statement like: "I just HATE my life! Everything sucks!" is hardly passion-less. There is passion there: thwarted passion. Thwarted passion kills: a little bit at a time, we die. Don't let this happen to you. Instead, look for little things that bring you joy, that make your heart beat just a little faster. Look at the people in your life in whose presence you feel most alive. Look at the animals and plants in your life whose presence you delight in. These are all sources of passion. Your passions will be uniquely your own -- no one may understand why you love gardening and circuit parties. This is your passion and it only needs to fulfill you. If you can share it with friends or partners, great. But so much of our inner passions aren't easily shared. They're our own little happy secrets.

Discover your own passions

Here's a little exercise to get in touch with some of your passions. Sit in a nice relaxing spot, turn off the cell phone, get a piece of paper and pen and then ask yourself these questions:

- What do I care about?
- What do I find interesting?
- What would I like to know more about?
- What have I long wanted to do/try/learn?

These are not easy questions, but they will stimulate the right side of your brain -- the creative, inspiring side. Take your time and think about them. You may want to answer them now and put them aside, then look at them tomorrow and add to your answers. Let yourself free associate -- there are no wrong answers! Let these questions help you identify your passions, those parts of your life that you are curious about and want to explore more. When you follow your curiosity, your life gets more vivid and energized. Curiosity leads to passion: curiosity is the process of investigation and passion is the experience that comes from acting on what you discover. If your life feels a bit dull and boring, try the above exercises and have fun playing with your curiosity and identifying some of your passions. Above all: enjoy the process.
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