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When we’re more curious, we are more likely to be happier and have stronger relationships. Try deepening your curiosity with these science-backed practices from author Scott Shigeoka.
As a cardiologist and immigrant in the United States, Stephanie Hsiao has always placed an emphasis on advancing her skills in order to succeed. So when she received the diagnosis that her son was neurodiverse, Stephanie went immediately into action mode to help her son — but she felt like she was missing something. For our show, Stephanie tried a practice to cultivate “deep curiosity,” and found that a curious outlook helped her to check her assumptions about parenting and discover her son’s strengths and interests. Later, we hear from curiosity expert Scott Shigeoka about the difference between shallow and deep curiosity, and how it can help us forge stronger connections with others.
- Before engaging in curiosity: Slow down, focus on your breathing. Set an intention to focus on curiosity and maybe visualize yourself being curious.
- While in conversation: Be open to being wrong, continuously check your assumptions, and actively turn towards those who are seeking your attention.
- Going forward: Make commitments to yourself and with others to engage in difficult, but open-minded interactions.
Stephanie Hsiao is a mother and cardiologist based in San Francisco, California.
Scott Shigeoka is an author and storyteller who focuses on themes of curiosity and well-being.
Order Scott Shigeoka’s book Seek: How Curiosity can Transform Your Life and Save the World: https://tinyurl.com/4jrxbupj
Learn More About Scott’s work: https://tinyurl.com/y5xyxky7
Follow Scott on Instagram: https://tinyurl.com/3acu6jhm
Follow Scott on Twitter: https://tinyurl.com/3m3k3bm9
Resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
Six Surprising Benefits of Curiosity: https://tinyurl.com/7kcr32su
How to Stay Open and Curious in Hard Conversations: https://tinyurl.com/y2f2e9ce
Why Curious People Have Better Relationships: https://tinyurl.com/2xw5y9yr
Does Curiosity Have a Dark Side? https://tinyurl.com/5n88wzyd
How Curiosity Can Help Us Overcome Disconnection: https://tinyurl.com/9kaas6nz
More Resources on Curiosity:
BBC - Curiosity: The neglected trait that drives success: https://tinyurl.com/38bubaak
Harvard - A Curious Mind: https://tinyurl.com/324hyzv4
TED - How Curiosity Will Save Us: https://tinyurl.com/muswe2y5
Tell us about your experience with being curious. Email us at email@example.com or use the hashtag #happinesspod.
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Rate us on Spotify and share this link with someone who might like the show: https://tinyurl.com/m6aezjce
This episode was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, as part of our project on “Expanding Awareness of the Science of Intellectual Humility.” To learn more, go to https://tinyurl.com/2dj6hw29
Stephanie Hsiao: When my son was five years old we were notified by the school that, there’s something disconnecting that he seems to be comprehending everything and able to verbalize everything.
But when he’s asked to write things down the letters will be backwards or mirror images. That was kind of like the first clue of you know, neurodiversity or traditionally learning disability. It really scared me. It was devastating. To be very honest, I had a lot of fear because I was so worried he’s not going to make it in life.
I am 100 percent Chinese and grew up in Taiwan and my husband is half Iranian. I think the reality is that to a lot of immigrants, even second generations, we realize that in order to be in this American life, we need to acquire skills.
For the longest time I focus on what is not meeting the standards and not seeing that he is actually gifted in others.
Dacher Keltner: Welcome to the Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner.
Curiosity is a tool that science has shown can strengthen our relationships and make us more likable, it can help us hold onto a sense of meaning in our lives, and it can even lift our moods.
Our guest today is Stephanie Hsiao, a cardiologist at a leading Bay Area hospital. Medicine is her life’s work, but she says her other life’s work, that of being a parent, is far more challenging and humbling.
Stephanie was challenged – as so many parents and caretakers are – by some surprises about her son. She wanted to know if being more curious might help her change how she approaches those difficulties. So we gave her some tips.
They come from author Scott Shigeoka, whose new book is called: Seek: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Change the World. It offers science-based techniques to cultivate deep curiosity. And we’re gonna hear more about that from Scott later in the show.
Scott Shigeoka: The powerful piece about deep curiosity is it doesn’t just help you to collect information, it really helps you to connect to the people that are in front of you.
Dacher Keltner: More on the science of being curious after this short break.
Welcome back to the Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. Today we’re talking about how curiosity can help guide us through difficult times and enrich our connections with others.
Our guest is Stephanie Hsiao, a cardiologist from the Bay Area. She’s also the parent of a nine-year-old son who’s neurodivergent, and wanted to better understand and support him. She tried some curiosity practices based in the science of slowing down, checking assumptions, and making commitments.
Thanks so much for joining us on our show today.
Stephanie, we’re going to talk to you about your role as a parent, but I, you know, parenting comes from our experiences as a child. And I’m just curious if you would tell us a little bit about your childhood.
Stephanie Hsiao: I grew up in Taiwan until the age of 14 that I came to the U. S. Came here by myself, actually. I was a strong minded teenager. Now looking back, I probably was very difficult to my parents. Essentially, I think I started around age 12 I watch a lot of ER shows, the American ER shows that were translated in Chinese and was just fascinated by medicine just transitioning suffering to a point of healing was very powerful. And my parents said, you know, if you really want to be a woman cardiologist or even any kind of physician, you have to go to the United States.
And I never stop thinking about it. I pretty much just didn’t stop talking about it from age 12 to 14 until they are decided that okay, you know, so
Dacher Keltner: You packed your bags at age —
Stephanie Hsiao: 14.
Dacher Keltner: You went to the United States?
Stephanie Hsiao: Yeah, yeah, they sent me to a boarding school in San Rafael.
Dacher Keltner: So you have a nine year old son alongside this busy career.
Stephanie Hsiao: Yes, yes.
Dacher Keltner: So what’s it like being a mom of this nine year old son?
Stephanie Hsiao: Yeah. He’s a vibrant really just probably the happiest kid I have known always full of energy. Very stubborn has a mind of his own and I mean, on receiving the diagnosis I was terrified I started kind of picturing worst case scenario and, falling behind reading, how is he going to keep up but I was like in fear.
Dacher Keltner: Why’d you choose curiosity?
Stephanie Hsiao: You know, I think for the longest time since his diagnosis, I have been doing a lot of research on remediation in terms of what kind of tutoring or service speech level he needs, but I essentially started treating him almost like a patient, but without really honoring who he is or what his true gifts are and I just didn’t know what does it mean to be a neurodiverse kid and I said that I want to get to know my son.
Dacher Keltner: You chose to harness for our show today the practice of curiosity and I’m thrilled because I love Scott Shigeoka’s book Seek: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Change the World.
And it has these following steps of slowing down, setting intentions, visualizing being curious, doing things to check our assumptions, being open to being wrong, leaning into hard experiences, and making commitments.
Dacher Keltner: So talk us through what you did step by step. Like, how did you slow down and set an intention to be curious
Stephanie Hsiao: The biggest. I guess assignment I had for myself is I want to see my son as his whole self, I just told myself, you know what, for this whole month I’m not gonna harp on his homework. I’m not gonna worry about his handwriting, I’m just going to sit with him and to see where his joy is.
Dacher Keltner: The next step is visualizing being curious and so you, you’ve got this month and your intention is to really know your son. and how did you visualize what to do with him and how did that change your parenting?
Stephanie Hsiao: I essentially started observing what brings him joy and his interaction with all of his friends and peers. And I saw parts of my son that I’m almost now ashamed that I haven’t really seen before and I should have given him more credit for because what an incredible child. The way he loves his friends. It’s tremendous. You know, there is no ounce of jealousy or comparative mind. And when his best friend is happy, he’s really happy, and I just love that. I realized that, you know, at core, probably the most important job as a parent is to raise a human being that is genuinely kind and benevolent and altruistic, if possible and I saw my son kind of In his true nature. He’s like that. And made me want to kind of foster that and cultivate his ability to bring that to the rest of the world.
Dacher Keltner: It sounds like in this curiosity practice, one of the key pieces that you’re speaking to is just checking your assumptions.
Stephanie Hsiao: I think the assumption would be that there’s so many theories of parenting out there. There’s gentle parenting, respectful parenting, there’s tiger mom parenting, you know, and I think the latest thing is scaffold parenting.
I think my assumption is that one of these have to work and then in some way I’ve tried all of them and nothing really worked and I realized that actually the best parenting is just your relationship with this other human being, right? To develop that trust to explore life together and to be a place of safety.
And the more I’m actually aligned with who he is, I think the better his life will turn out.
Dacher Keltner: And out of curiosity, this practice often comes a sense of like, “Wow, I’m really open to how I got it wrong. How did you experience that?”
Stephanie Hsiao: In the middle of curiosity practice as you are receiving all these, adventures encountering or things that are different from your assumption. A lot of times my mind will be somewhat in conflict with these assumptions, and part of this practice is to acknowledge the assumptions, and then let it go, and let it okay to be a little bit different from what you expect.
I realized that I think that neurodiversity is just the way some of our brains are wired differently. For example, he is gifted in visual spatial space. He is going after the 14 year old 16 year old type of complex Legos, and he finished this like 2000 piece Titanic all by himself in six hours with like hyper focus concentration. And so he is showing me areas of his almost like super strength. For the longest time I focus on what is not meeting the standards and not seeing that he is actually gifted in others.
Dacher Keltner: One of the things these exercises do for us, it energizes us to make other commitments to like, okay, God, I’ve learned this out of this practice, how has that taken shape with you and your life and your son?
Stephanie Hsiao: You know, I’m discovering what interests him really.
And I’m just so excited to learn with him. So when I look at my son, I wonder when he grows up one day, will he be deeply happy and find meaning?
And what will he need? That’s my best wish for him is that he remains a joyful and happy and empathetic person and bring the light to the people around him.
Dacher Keltner: Well, Stephanie, thanks for sharing your story up here. And thanks for talking about the demands of parenting and what you’ve learned through curiosity.
Stephanie Hsiao: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Dacher Keltner: Coming up, we learn more about the science of being curious with author Scott Shigeoka.
Scott Shigeoka: True curiosity is open-hearted, open-minded, not knowing what you’re going to discover or uncover from someone else or from yourself, and being willing to be transformed by what it is that you actually experience.
Dacher Keltner: More curiosity, after the break.
Welcome back to the Science of Happiness. I’m Dacher Keltner. Today on our show, we’re talking about how curiosity can help us break through assumptions that get in the way of relationships, and forge new paths forward. Our guest Scott Shigeoka is the author of a remarkable new book, Seek: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life And Change The World .
Scott, it’s so nice to have you on the show.
Scott Shigeoka: Thanks so much. I’m like beaming.
Dacher Keltner: In your book, you make this really interesting distinction that shook me, which is between ordinary curiosity and then deep curiosity. Tell us about that.
Scott Shigeoka: Yeah so I talk about it on a spectrum. Curiosity is on a spectrum. They’re shallow on one end and then deep on the other end. And shallow curiosity is a desire to know things. It’s in questions like, what’s your name? You know, where are you from?
What do you do for work? You know, you get some information and it’s helpful in some ways, but as you move towards the deep end of the spectrum, you start to unearth stories and insights and values and it’s much richer and it’s more nuanced. So instead of asking a question like, “What’s your name?” You might ask, “What’s the story of your name?:
Instead of asking, “What do you do for work?” You might ask, “You know, when do you come alive?”
It really helps you to connect to the people that are in front of you, and it really transforms your own perspectives and your own beliefs.
Dacher Keltner: Our guests for today’s show did some of these practices and I want to get your thoughts on this tell us about why slowing down is so powerful.
Scott Shigeoka: The way that I talk about in the book is using the metaphor of quicksand, what most people do is they flail around and they freak out and that actually sinks you in further and faster when you, what you want to do when you’re in quicksand is you want to slow down and really focus on your breath and become as buoyant as possible.
And you want to calm yourself so that you can really have a better decision-making process and then you want to intentionally and slowly move your body so that you kick the sand around that allows you to then rise to the surface and then you can get out of the quicksand.
And you know I like to say that we’re all in quicksand in different moments of our lives, right?
And sometimes our inclination is to add fire on fire when we slow down that really does make a difference.
Dacher Keltner: So tell us about visualizing being curious, like using imagery, such a nice scientific literature there, police officers in Detroit, you know, and they visualize scenarios and being more relaxed in those settings, were better able to reframe kind of the complexities of their work in positive terms. How do we visualize being curious?
Scott Shigeoka: I think a lot about visualization in the context of sports, you know, Alan Richardson, who was a sports psychologist or a psychologist who studied mental rehearsal, so basically this idea of if you can close your eyes and imagine yourself shooting a free throw basketball in a particular way every day, would that allow you to improve your free throw shots? And basically the answer is yes, almost just as much as if you were to practice it. In a court every single day, so, you know, that also applies, if you’re going into your office and you know you’re going to have a really tense, you know, conversation with your employees and you want to show up with that calmness with that curiosity.
Dacher Keltner: Good reminder. My final question, Scott, give us a couple of closing pieces of wisdom on how we can rely on our capacity for curiosity.
Scott Shigeoka: Yeah. And I learned this from Lily, who is a wildland firefighter in Montana and who said, you know, I don’t fight fires. I am with the fire. I need my curiosity to actually respond to what’s happening in our communities with these fires.
If you’re not curious about the world around you and what’s inside of you as well, then you’re not going to be able to respond in these dire moments, right? And we all have our own wildfire moments in life.
So in the book, I talk about writing a vow to yourself when you’re about to go into this wildfire season. To say how are you gonna show up for yourself in this moment? And that’s the big insight is, you know, when you are curious, this isn’t just about the people around you, it’s really an opportunity to transform yourself.
Dacher Keltner: Scott Shigeoka, thank you so much for your work in the world for being our show on our show today and for your new book Seek, which is giving me goosebumps just thinking about it.
Scott Shigeoka: Oh, that means a lot. Thanks, Dacher. Appreciate you.
Dacher Keltner: Thanks for listening to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner.
On our next episode of the Science of Happiness we explore the scientific benefits of spending time thinking, writing and learning about our ancestors.
Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz: I’ve never really considered my ancestors and, like, how they may have moved through the world, and just this writing practice was an invitation to the whimsy, the curiosity and joy and wellbeing and levity of their lives.
Dacher Keltner: I’m Dacher Keltner, that’s for joining us on Science of Happiness.
This episode was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, as part of our project on “Expanding Awareness of the Science of Intellectual Humility.” To learn more, go to ggsc.berkeley.edu/ih.
Special thanks to Pauline Bartolone, our producer for this episode. Our Executive Producer of Audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. And our associate producer is Maarya Zafar. Our executive director is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.
Thanks for exploring the Science of Happiness with us.