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Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life"

by Todd B. Kashdan

After reading this book in October of 2020, I wrote,


"Get curious about this book. A compelling case for how curiosity (which you can generate) creates a fulfilling life and great relationships."

See all my book recommendations.  

Here are the selections I made:

In a survey of more than 10,000 people from 48 countries, happiness was viewed as more important than success, intelligence, knowledge, maturity, wisdom, relationships, wealth, and meaning in life.


Only in the present can we be liberated to do whatever it is we want. It’s a razor-thin moment when we are truly free. When we are curious, we exploit these moments by being there, sensitive to what is happening regardless of how it diverges from what it looked like before (past) or what we expect it to be (future). We are engaged and alive to what is occurring. We are energized. We are open and receptive to finding opportunities, making discoveries, and adding to the meaning in our life.


Without curiosity, we are unable to sustain our attention, we avoid risks, we abort challenging tasks, we compromise our intellectual development, we fail to achieve competencies and strengths, we limit our ability to form relationships with other people, and essentially, stagnate.


Most people overestimate risk, failure, and danger and underestimate the value of being curious.


Living a life of curiosity is not about ignoring risk and anxiety. It’s about being willing to do what one values, even in the face of risk and anxiety.


Curiosity serves as a gateway to what we value and cherish most. We can reclaim the lost pleasures of uncertainty, discovery, and play from our youth.


Most people stop looking when they find the proverbial needle in the haystack. I would continue looking to see if there were other needles. Albert Einstein


Although you might believe that certainty and control over your circumstances brings you pleasure, it is often uncertainty and challenge that actually bring you the most profound and longest-lasting benefits.


I wake up with the hope this day is even more uncertain than yesterday. It’s the unknown that we live, breathe, and move in all the time thinking it is the known. If a life can be a series of perpetual surprises, that’s the most joyous experience you can have.


Curiosity creates possibilities; the need for certainty narrows them.


Curiosity creates energy; the need for certainty depletes. Curiosity results in exploration; the need for certainty creates closure. Curiosity creates movement; the need for certainty is about replaying events. Curiosity creates relationships; the need for certainty creates defensiveness.


Curiosity is about discovery; the need for certainty is ...


Unfortunately, there are costs to working hard to feel safe, secure, and confident. We often end up shutting down our search for information too early in the process. In essence, we quickly become close-minded. We protect our beliefs even when they might be wrong. If someone shares our views, we praise them; if someone questions or challenges our views, we criticize, attack, and discount them.


Lack of curiosity is a breeding ground for: Stereotyping and discrimination, that in the extreme leads to hatred and even violence Inflated confidence and ignorance that leads to poor decisions Dogmatism and rigid thinking, which is the opposite of psychological flexibility


We need to be wary of the need for certainty. Seeking certitude can cause our beliefs and decision making to crystallize prematurely, and the resulting reluctance to consid...


Pain is unavoidable; suffering is optional.


Curiosity is what Buddhist scholars are talking about when they refer to the “unborn Buddha mind” or “beginner’s mind.” Bankei Zen was talking about seeing things with fresh, open eyes as if for the first time.


Those college-aged youngsters identified as very curious in later adulthood had several characteristics in common: They had rich emotional lives filled with both positive and negative feelings (further evidence that negative emotions are not “bad”). They were actively searching for meaning in life (this included questioning authority and dominant, widely accepted ideas). They didn’t experience themselves as being restricted by social norms. They chose careers that gave them opportunities to be genuine, authentic, independent, and creative.


A hyperfocus on seeking security, avoiding distress, and sticking to a comfortable routine lessens one’s curiosity and, in turn, satisfaction and meaning in life.


As Tibetan Buddhists remind us, “If we take care of the minutes and moments, the hours and days will take care of themselves.”


curiosity was one of the five most highly associated with Experiencing overall life fulfillment and happiness Taking satisfaction from one’s work Living a pleasurable life Living an engaging life


Without being interested in what we do, it is nearly impossible to be motivated to reach the goals that are most important to us. When we are disinterested, our commitment, effort, creativity, perseverance, performance, and a host of other valuable qualities suffer.


Abolish categories, labels, and stereotypes. Artificial barriers only prevent us from knowing ourselves, making choices that fit our interests, and obtaining the required energy nutriments to expand and grow.


There are three steps to applying the lessons of this experiment to our regular lives: Very simply, choose something that is unappealing to you. It could be listening to speed metal or free jazz, going to a wine-tasting event, or reading Victorian poetry. Take part in the activity, but instead of doing it as is, search for any three novel or unique things about it. Write down or talk about what you discovered with someone else. Like the research participants, you’ll find you carry this open-minded interest with you in subsequent days and weeks.


We might use the following guidelines: When waking, what am I seeing that I overlooked before? When talking, I am going to remain open to whatever transpires without categorizing, judging, or reacting, I will let novelty unfold, resisting the temptation to control the flow. When walking outside the house, I will gently guide my attention so I can be intrigued by my every bodily movement and whatever sights, sounds, and smells are within my range. I will assume or presume nothing except that novelty exists everywhere. With this mindset, every single gesture is guided by openness and curiosity.


Acceptance—To be accepted as I am Achievement—To set goals and make important accomplishments Accuracy—To be accurate in my opinions and beliefs Attractiveness—To be physically attractive Authority—To be in charge and lead, command, and be responsible for others Autonomy—To be independent and in control of my thoughts and actions as opposed to being controlled by outside influences Caring—To take care of others and be kind and generous Challenge—To take on difficult and demanding tasks and problems Commitment—To make enduring, meaningful commitments Conformity—To respect rules, be obedient, and meet societal obligations Contribution—To make a lasting impact on the world Cooperation—To work collaboratively with others Courtesy—To be considerate and polite toward others Creativity—To have new and original ideas Dependability—To be honest, reliable, and responsible Faithfulness—To be loyal and trustworthy in relationships Family—To create and sustain a happy, loving family Genuineness—To act in a manner that is true to who I am God’s Will—To seek and obey the will of God Growth—To continue learning, changing, and evolving Health—To be physically well and healthy Hedonism—To simply enjoy myself and satisfy my desires Helpfulness—To be helpful to others Humor—To see the humorous side of myself and the world Industry—To work hard and well at my life tasks Inner Peace—To seek out and experience tranquility and serenity Knowledge—To learn and contribute valuable knowledge Loving—To give love to others Mastery—To be competent in my everyday activities Order—To have a life that is well-ordered and organized Popularity—To be well-liked by many people


ower—To gain social status and prestige Purpose—To have meaning and direction in my life Romance—To have intense, exciting love in my life Safety—To be safe and secure Security—To protect loved ones, my community, and/or my nation Self-control—To be disciplined in my own actions Self-esteem—To feel good about myself Self-sufficient—To take care of myself without being dependent on others Spirituality—To grow and mature spiritually by connecting to things bigger than myself Stability—To have a life that stays relatively consistent Stimulation—To actively seek out adventure and create a life filled with novelty and variety Tolerance—To accept other people, as well as opinions and beliefs differing from my own Tradition—To respect and preserve the past and maintain order through tradition and customs Universalism—To create a sense of harmony among different people and preventing war and conflict; to create a sense of unity with nature and protecting it Virtue—To live a morally pure and excellent life Wealth—To have plenty of money Insert your own unlisted value: Insert your own unlisted value:


The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. —Elie Wiesel


Dale Carnegie in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, “you can’t catch fish with strawberries and cream.”


“Let me see if I am following you…am I missing anything?”


When it comes to romantic relationships, some couples might need a therapist to guide them. Note, however, that the research findings and insights in this chapter are very different from what many couples want from therapy. Many couples want answers. They want to reach a sense of certainty and closure. They want to be able to predict their partners’ every move because it releases them from feeling anxious and uncomfortable. They want to be absolutely certain they are going to stay together and work it out. That might work if you are interested in staying together and couldn’t care less about the quality of your time together.


Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. —Mark Twain


Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble. —Ralph Waldo Emerson


When people can’t handle their partner’s periodic requests for privacy or their random bursts of anger and anxiety, they resort to extreme measures (aggression, breaking up) instead of working through normal relationship snafus. When you try to stop your partner from doing things you don’t approve of, when you start prying and spying on your partner, when you start avoiding things that make you uncomfortable, then you prevent them from being free and autonomous. Partners learn that it’s better to hide and conceal than pay the price of revealing things that might make you uncomfortable.


People say that we’re searching for the meaning of life. I don’t think that’s it at all. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive… —Joseph Campbell


As the adage goes, “the juice is worth the squeeze.”


If I waved a magic wand so that you were guaranteed a lifetime of being accepted, loved, and admired, what would your life be about? What do you stop (now that you no longer worry about what others think)? What are you going to do differently? If your quest would be different, then it’s time to begin the journey of your true self. Keep asking these questions over and over again to ensure your purpose is an outgrowth of your own interests.


Exercise 1: How to Invigorate Your Relationship with Your Romantic Partner


STEP 1: Privately, each person should think about time spent with their partner. Without talking about it, each of you should make a list of the shared times together that could best be described as “very pleasant” or “exciting.” Think about things you do at home, for work, in the community, for leisure, on vacation, or anywhere else where you did something with your partner that made you feel excited. For instance, think about when the two of you:

  • Went to a concert or a club

  • Played or watched a sport or games of some kind

  • Shopped Learned a new skill

  • Talked Volunteered Solved a problem

  • Took care of other people, animals, or things

  • Went to a spiritual or religious event/workshop/meeting

  • Played music

  • Had sex (the more details, the better)

  • Worked out

  • Relaxed

  • Spent time in a different environment than you are usually in (beach versus mountains, suburbs versus city, noisy versus quiet, teeming with people versus sparsely populated)

  • Engaged in strenuous physical and/or mental exercise Joined an organization that you both believed in Pursued a hobby

  • Worked on the house, the yard, the car, the boat

  • Cooked new recipes

  • Went to the movies

  • Sat in the same room and did your own thing, like read, did needlework, or worked crossword puzzles Planned the family budget

  • Took a class Something else (the sky is the limit—add any activities that fueled you)


STEP 2: Get together with your partner and compare the two lists. Take note of which items show up on both lists. Create a master list containing those items.  


STEP 3: This step has three parts. First, think about some activities that are similar to the activities you found exciting and are possible for you to do, and add them to the master list. Second, be on the lookout for new, novel activities that you believe both you and your partner will find exciting, and try them out. If your instincts were right, add them to the master list. Third, consider incorporating activities that intrigue you that you might ordinarily pass up because you feel they are too childish or have a potential to be embarrassing. Stretch by allowing yourself to feel some anxiety. As you discover new, exciting activities, add them to the master list.  


STEP 4: Engage in one of the activities on your master list for at least 1-1/2 hours every week. Add spice to these occasions by being sure to select examples from your master list of the three different types of activities discussed in step 3. After all, even the most exciting thing will start to feel mundane if you do it over and over again, and sometimes it takes a few tries before you and your partner find activities that are the right fit for you. Treat this 1-1/2 hour period each week as a very important appointment—don’t skip it unless you absolutely must.

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