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For the curious, here’s how to live longer

Many people do a little self-assessment at this time each year, and that is exactly what prompts me to make the following admission: When I was a kid in school, I never asked many questions. I’ve been making up for it as an adult, however, and apparently that is a very positive approach, because curious people appear to be healthier, according to a number of studies.

Many people adhere to specific diets, restricting their intake of foods associated with certain ailments. Some of my friends take vitamins. I realize that vitamins, especially C and D, are highly recommended. Others swallow a daily regimen of supplements, formulations such as flax oil, melatonin or that famous duo of glucosamine and chondroitin.

A growing number exercise. They lift weights, jog the streets in all kinds of weather or spend time operating sophisticated equipment at the health club, all designed to make them grunt, groan and eventually become fit.

Those folks all claim they derive substantial benefits from whatever strategy they have adopted, and I salute them for their efforts and their dedication to the task of staying well.

My own routine is somewhat different and in many ways more challenging than popping pills or cavorting with a medicine ball.

Can you guess? I ask questions. Am I kidding? No. How many questions? Should I be keeping track? Would you? I try to ask between 45 and 60 questions each and every day, weekends included. Is that enough? What about vacations? If I stay home, the total is about the same, but if I travel the number of questions always escalates because I’m in unfamiliar places, seeing new things and different people. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

I have no way of knowing whether I am asking enough questions to stay in good health, because the articles and studies regarding the benefits of a curious nature never mention any precise measurements or guidelines regarding the manifestation of curiosity.

When did I start asking questions after such a taciturn boyhood? How should I know? Was I shy? That’s certainly a possibility, isn’t it? Was I intimidated by speaking in a classroom or before a large group? It could be, but then how come I won a public speaking prize in seventh grade? It is complicated for anyone to trace the development of personality traits. It’s challenging, don’t you agree?

Could I have matured? Could I be described as a late bloomer? Is that a rhetorical question? Absolutely. Who can say for sure what transpired? By the time I signed on as a reporter for the college weekly, I seemed comfortable interrogating the dean or even the president without concern. What was my style in those early days? Was I an abrasive or polite questioner? Neither. Have I changed my technique? What do you think?

Curious people, the reports explain, seem to enjoy life more, doing different things and adjusting easily to different situations. Apparently there is evidence that as a result of their inquisitive nature, such people live longer. Have you read about those findings? Does that seem like a worthwhile goal? Am I claiming my behavior complies with those standards? Nope. That would be presumptuous, wouldn’t it?

Have you ever been suspicious about some of the popular psychobabble studies reported in the press? I don’t blame you. Who wouldn’t question some of their claims?

Yet it strikes me as an interesting path to longevity, don’t you agree? The assumption is that the questioner gains knowledge by eliciting answers. Could such a person believe that he or she was simultaneously becoming both smarter and healthier through questioning?

It sounds positive, doesn’t it? But is there a downside? Can asking questions be considered offensive or antagonistic? Don’t the questions require asking in a way that avoids offending others? That is absolutely correct.

So what is the bottom line? How did I know readers would request information regarding the bottom line? Why? Because it is such a common query. Why so common? Because when certain unskilled questioners can think of nothing further to ask, they resort to inquiring about that elusive fact, the bottom line.

In my own case, asking questions has proved to be the keystone of my career, and I always plan to ask more questions next year than last year. Incidentally, I recognized long ago that I’m much better at asking questions than I am at answering them. Isn’t that a positive bottom line?

Dick Hirsch is a long-time contributor to the Opinion page.



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