It was one of those commutes that you know happens occasionally but is never fun.
I was driving home from a meeting during rush hour, and what normally should have been a 20 minute drive turned into 2 hours. No joke. And the kicker: my gas tank light was on because I had planned on filling up on the way home. I crept along, nervously telling myself that soon I would get to my exit from the highway and I could get to a gas station quickly from there. Nope. I got to my exit only to find the exit closed due to a bad accident right next to it and the police had it blocked. I had to drive way out of my normal route, and take a completely different path home. Fortunately I eventually coasted into a gas station and made it home safe and sound, but my adrenaline was elevated and it was frustrating to lose all that time unexpectedly.
Now for the interesting part and the reason I share this story:
I pull up into my driveway; tired, thirsty, and hungry. I happen to glance down randomly as I was walking towards the entry. Not sure how this caught my attention, but it did: two little ants, making their way up my driveway with a relatively large worm of some sort. One ant had each end of the worm, and they were collectively trekking forward, towards what I assume to be their colony with their haul of the day. The worm was at least equal in size to the combined size of the ants, if not bigger. It was fascinating! Watching their determination, crawling over little rocks and cracks in the driveway, each ant having to stay in step with it’s partner. While this may sound silly or insignificant, I couldn’t help but be curious about the significance this process was to the life of these tiny little creatures that I probably came close to stepping on!
Now for the really cool part of this story:
Within 3 minutes of watching these ants do their thing, my mood changed. I went from being tired and frustrated, to a place of curiosity and joy about the crazy, complex world around me. I didn’t really care as much about the loss of time I just experienced.
Something happens in our brains when something piques our curiosity. A researcher at the University of California studied brain activity via MRI results of participants that were given a questionnaire with a list of various questions, and when their curiosity was piqued, the area of the brain that regulates pleasure and releases dopamine lit up.
Interesting! But what does this have to do with living mindfully?
Think about what life is like when you are running around crazily and you don’t have time to notice what is going on around you. You don’t notice the odd shaped clouds in the sky that day. You may not take note of how green all the trees and grass has become from all the rain we recently received. Those flowers in the back yard beds, wonder when they stopped blooming? Your elderly neighbor that you used to see walking their dog every day, you suddenly realize you can’t remember when you saw them last, and hope they are ok.
When you approach every day a little more slowly, and allow yourself to be more aware and mindful, with curiosity about your surroundings, the world becomes more magical. You open yourself up to see more beauty and fascinating things about nature, it’s creatures, and the people we live with and around, and science tells us that this can make us happier. Possibly even more importantly, when you notice you aren’t seeing your elderly neighbor as much, checking in on their wellbeing might just make their day, knowing that someone actually noticed and cared.
Living life with curiosity is an element of living mindfully that can provide us with happiness and joy. Children live this way everyday, and as we get older, some of us start to lose this part of ourselves. See if you can bring even a little curiosity back into your life. There are endless things to learn about and adventures to take, as close as your own backyard.
Have a healthy, mindful, and CURIOUS week!