Think of the most interesting person you know. Now, answer this question: why is this person interesting? Pause for a second to answer before you read on.
This question is a tough one for me, not because there are limited options to choose from but in fact the opposite. I am very fortunate to have a bunch of friends who are incredibly interesting, but I will only name a few here. Justin is a Clinical Pharmacist who saves peoples’ lives every day as they battle against critical diseases, yet he is uber-curious still about everything and no topic is too complex or mundane worth investigating. Joe has mastered many skills, competed at high levels, and has lived a unique and diverse lifestyle, but he keeps exploring everything around him while remaining motivated to learn and willing to change. My father-in-law, Scott, seems to know everything one can know about nature, machines, and a variety of other topics, yet he still asks the simplest questions to anyone and everyone and he is always willing to sacrifice his ego in exchange for new information.
As you read on, I will explain why I believe that the most interesting people in the world, not just the ones I listed here, are all defined by the same attribute. Simply, these interesting people are the ones who show the most interest.
To get started, you should first understand the concept of social generosity. Being socially generous means giving up something of yourself in order to create a better connection or to make another person feel good. Social generosity is not a mindset, it is an action. People who seem interesting to others are socially generous. Their curiosity in other people and in the world around them lead them to give the gift of social generosity and to ultimately make others feel good about themselves.
Have you ever stopped amid a conversation with a colleague and asked yourself:
“How does this person feel about herself while she is talking to me?”
That question can be an ever-important one. The way a person feels about herself is how she will gauge your likability and how she will determine how close of a relationship she wants to have with you. But asking this question is hard, it requires self-sacrifice and it requires that you put aside your own motivations for a moment. It requires that you put a stop to your internal dialogue that is saying “does this person like me,” or “what will I say next,” or “I wish this conversation would end so I could go eat lunch.”
Most of us, myself included, will struggle to ask this question because we nearly always enter our conversations with an agenda: we have something to say and we want to be heard. Our motives can be simplified into these two buckets. While most conversations carry on and as other people speak, the wheels in our brains continue to turn and think about what we will say next, how to get our point across, and how to be understood. Most of the time, even when we are listening we aren’t really listening.
Fortunately, we have the ability to change all of that by practicing social generosity. We can enter into conversations looking to give something up. We can willingly volunteer our attention, our curiosity, and ourselves and we can give this gift without any expectation to receive. When we give social generosity we make others feel good, yes, but we also feel good about ourselves. When we truly set aside our egos and our desire to feel important we experience a fundamental change inside.
I used to wonder how I could become a more interesting person; how could I make people intrigued by my background, my stories, or my experiences? One way to do this, of course, is to be entertaining, like a comedian or a magician. Sure, you can learn jokes or stories that can keep peoples’ attentions, but despite being unnatural and awkward this only goes so far because it is self-focused and one dimensional. Another idea I had is that I could be more interesting by living an interesting life, by having great life experiences such as traveling to Europe, or skydiving, or starting a successful business. And while this is partially true, that these experiences would make for interesting conversations, it still misses the point. Both of these “strategies” fall short because they seek to further a self-centric agenda and they demonstrate little care for other people. Without having a genuine care for others, others will not genuinely care for you. As I have stated:
The only way to be truly interesting is to be interested.
The most interesting people I know are also the most curious. They ask a million questions, listen intently, and soak up new information. They genuinely care about others and others’ interests. Their curiosity leads them to learn new things, keep an open mind, and build great relationships.
You may be reading this and thinking, “but I am already a good listener and already curious, so I don’t think this really applies to me.” This might be true, maybe you are wiser than me and have exercised this type of generosity for years. But even still, there is always room to improve in this area because we are referring to generosity. Think about this generosity literally, can you ever give too much to charity? Can you ever volunteer too much? Can you ever treat others too well? Yes, being socially generous starts by opening your ears and shutting your mouth but it doesn’t end there. Being a good listener means truly caring and being genuinely curious, which takes time, practice, and consistency.
Do this: for the remainder of the day, try putting your own needs aside. Do away with the need to be heard, the want to be understood, and the desire to speak about yourself or the things you are into. When you are generous in this way, you completely stop thinking about yourself and you honestly and sincerely give. And as a result of this newfound state of giving, you will reap the infinite rewards that follow. The gift of social generosity is more precious than you may realize. Every time this happens, every time a person sets aside him or herself and gives this gift with no strings attached, amazing possibilities open up. Suicides are stopped, love is sparked, business partnerships grow deeper. Beyond that, lives are changed, new paths are created, and relationships are strengthened and restored. Hope is found and trust is earned. A gift is given and nothing is expected in return.
Want to be considered an interesting person? Want to change lives? Want to build lifelong friendships? The answers are here: be more curious, be interested in everyone and everything, be genuine and be generous.
The term “social generosity” and the inspiration for this post come from the Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #317: Why Your First Impression Matters & How to Improve It, featuring psychologist and author Ann Demarais.