Survey Article: How do I become a more interesting person?

by casebash3 min read18th Oct 201544 comments

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This post surveys a number of different sources and opinions on how to be a more interesting person. This isn’t merely about improving yourself socially or making your interactions more enjoyable, but also about achieving your full potential as a human being. In this post, I mention specific activities, but it is important to choose activities that align with your personal interests as otherwise, you are much less likely to invest the time and effort required to master them.

Please read this article which explains the need that these survey articles fill.

Quora:

How do I become a more interesting person?

Moses Namkung argues being interesting is about being curious, “restlessly seeking out knowledge” and accumulating new experiences. He claims that they have “merged their personal interests with their work/main purpose in life” and pursue productive activities instead of just vegetating.

Kat Li suggests travelling, learning a language and experiencing foreign cultures. These will help you develop a new way of seeing the world. She notes that although it is good to have a wide variety of experiences, it is generally worthwhile to have at least one area in which you are a true expert, so that you have something that is unique.

Scott Danzig defines interesting as knowing something others don’t, being able to do something others can’t or something that is different. He further suggests that creating a sense of mystery by not revealing certain information can make you more interesting too.

How can you live an interesting life?

Leo Polovets suggests three rules. Firstly, to be willing to do things by yourself, instead of needing someone to come with you. Secondly, saying yes to as many opportunities as possible. Thirdly, to stop caring about what is normal or expected.

Emmet Meehan says that you should be different, but not different just for the sake of being different. He says that if you wear neon green shoe laces it should be because you want neon green shoe laces. He also suggests that something as simple as reading a new book or listening to a new radio station will make you more interesting.

Bud Hennekes explains that some of his best experiences have come from talking about strangers. He notes that if you surround yourself with interesting people you are more likely to end up being interesting yourself. He also argues that you should step outside of your comfort zone and not be afraid of failure, as failure is often interesting in itself.

Many of Greg Strange‘s best experiences came as a result of avoiding preplanning or backup plans. “Go where you will have to depend on your wits, your bravado and your humor.  No matter what happens, no matter how good or bad the trip turns out, no matter whether you regret it or not, you did it and you did it on your own.”

Michael Huggins tells some interesting stories of how minor events helped him discover new interests. For example, he saw someone play a few bars of harpsichord on television and when he investigated further he discovered he had a fascination with Baroque music.

Wikihow:

Wikihow suggests going to local events (such as markets or festivals) or reading a new book every month. You may also consider taking courses online (good sites include Khan Academy, Coursera or Udemy).

Lifehacker:

Career Sherpa notes that if you are interested in others, they are likely to reciprocate and be more interested in you. It is often stated that you should ask open ended questions. For example, “Tell me about your family” provides your conversation partner more space to steer the conversation to something interesting than “How many brothers do you have?”.

Mark Manson:

Mark Manson explains that in order to be interesting, you have to take risks. “If you live a non-polarizing life, then you are not going to be attractive or unattractive. You’re just going to be boring. More of the same. Dime a dozen”

He also suggests developing artistic taste. Compare “I really liked Terminator” to “Terminator was great. But what was more interesting to me is that it was the first movie in which you ended up rooting for the villain”. He suggests trying to appreciate the value of all kinds of film and music – as opposed to dismissing entire genres and to judge art based on its intentions, not just results. He suggests that the best way to get into a new genre is to start by consuming the media that is generally considered the best or most critically acclaimed.

Forbes

Forbes suggests embracing your “innate weirdness” and doing “something. anything”. It also suggests finding a cause that you care strongly about since even those who don’t care so much about it themselves can admire your passion.

Succeed Socially

Succeed socially warns that can be “extremely well-round and accomplished”, but you’ll still need some degree of social skills to be socially successful. It also discusses the issue of topics that are socially practical to know. It argues that there are significant benefits to picking up this knowledge, but sometimes “even if it would be practical to learn about them, we still can’t be bothered, and we can live with the consequences”.

Further ideas:

  • Keeping up with the news will give you easy topics of conversation
  • Subscribing to a Word of the Day site. Sometimes all it takes to make an idea interesting is to say it in a different way
  • Checking out a new style of music. People who share your tastes are likely to have similar personalities.
  • Picking up a new hobby will make you more interesting. Several suggestions have been listed so far. A few more popular ones are dancing, cooking and learning to play an instrument.
  • Becoming more interesting is about developing what is unique about yourself. The advice commonly given is “be yourself”, but I find it much clearer to say, “be the best version of yourself”. This clarifies that it is perfectly fine to change the things that are holding you back socially, so long as you don’t compromise your individuality.

Regarding suggestions: I want this article to focus more on being an interesting person, rather than being an interesting conversationalist. Some ideas about conversations slipped in here, but I'll probably shift them over to the article on conversation when I get around to writing it.

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"How do I become a more interesting person?"

Have interests beyond being interesting. Be an interested person, and be willing to share that interest with others.

I'd change the question a little. Unless this is about self image "I am an interesting person", if what you want is to have more people to be interested in you, there is an obvious strategy to that - sell yourself as best you can. Figure out your "interesting" comparative advantage, identify your target market, and sell sell sell. Advertise what you've got to sell to people who might be buyers

Many years ago I listened to an audiobook by I think Jim Rohn. It concluded a segment where he said: "Even if you don't have had a near-death experience, you still experience something in your life worth talking about."

My response was "Well, I do have had an experience that can be reasonably described as near-death experience but I still have nothing to talk about." At that point, I admited to myself that my issue wasn't lack of interesting experiences but a lack of an ability to talk about my experiences. I would guess that this is also true for the majority of people on LW who don't feel like they are interesting.

You give dancing as a stereotypical interesting hobby. I don't think the fact that I was dancing Salsa for 6 1/2 years on average 2 times per week made me an interesting conversation partner. It rather provided me with a space for social interaction where I didn't have to practice telling stories very much.

Jim Rohn advice was that if you experience something worth telling other people about, write it in a notebook. Then when you have a situation where there's an opportunity to tell the story, tell the story. The ability to tell stories is a lot more important than the content of the story. If you think you are bad at it and afraid to practice it at complex social interaction, maybe your parents would be happy to hear the story from you. You might call your mother or father and tell them: "Something happened in my life that I want to tell you about. It's not a big event but I want to tell you about it." Then you tell them the story. If your parents are typical they very likely appreciate the act of you sharing the story with them, even if you don't have much skill at telling it.

I was writing about being an interesting person, not being an interesting conversationalist. See the comment I edited in: "I want this article to focus more on being an interesting person, rather than being an interesting conversationalist. Some ideas about conversations slipped in here, but I'll probably shift them over to the article on conversation when I get around to writing it"

Many people have told me that the think it is cool that I dance, in contrast no-one told me they thought it was cool that I played role playing games, back when I did it, except for people who engaged in that hobby as well. You can definitely get people to value you more by teaching people a few moves of Salsa and I've used it to get a few dates on Tinder.

Jim's advice about telling stories is pretty good, I'll include it if I write an article about it.

I was writing about being an interesting person, not being an interesting conversationalist.

Could you clarify this distinction? Someone is viewed as interesting if they manage to present an interesting image of themselves, and conversation is one of the main ways in which we do present an image of ourselves to others (other ways including writing, public speaking, and physical appearance/demeanor).

So distinguishing "being an interesting person" from "being an interesting conversationalist" sounds odd to me, since a very large percentage of our interesting-ness comes from being an interesting conversationalist (or some of those other things like being an interesting writer or public speaker, but I'm guessing you wouldn't include those either?).

I'm guessing you're defining "interesting" as something like "interesting is having done unusual things", but even there you only become interesting to others if you're successful at telling others about those things.

Sorry, but I'm actually not going to clarify this distinction. Getting this distinction right matters very little to me. I'll put some content in one article and some in the other article based on my own subjective opinion and if someone feels that something better belongs in the other article, well tough luck.

That's fair. :)

interesting person

What does that phrase mean to you? To me it's interesting means that if you are at a party other people want to talk to you.

When it comes optimizing my own life for myself I don't focus on being interesting but rather attempt to do meaningful things that are good for me and the world around me.

It means the kind of person that people would want to meet. Being good at discussion is hugely important, but that's exactly why I want to put it into its own article.

Everybody who reads LW and integrates what they read into their lives is an interesting person provided they can tell stories about it.

If someone asks you what you do with your free time and you tell him that you read LW with is a community about getting rid of biases and fallacies that isn't interesting.

If you tell him you read LW and there you learned to fix your sleep that's interesting. If you tell him how you now take Melatonin and have now much more energy in your life that's a conversation they can remember a year later, provided you tell the story well.

Applied rationality provides for experiences that make good stories, provided you are good at story telling. On the other hand I don't think my Salsa dancing provides for experiences that make good stories that will likely to be remembered a year down the road.

I went to that extreme that my life was interesting enough to have two reporters with a camera man coming along to film a talk I was given at the Chaos Computer Congress for a Quantified Self documentary and at the same time seeing that I'm not socially interesting and feel like I can't tell interesting things at the end of 2011.

Having "interesting to journalists" but not "interesting for standard social interaction" covered might be a personal extreme that isn't true for everybody in LW, but I think most people here are basically interesting and there issues with other people not finding them as interesting as they would like lies in an inability to communicate interesting stories.

Having "interesting to journalists" but not "interesting for standard social interaction" covered might be a personal extreme that isn't true for everybody in LW,

Second datapoint: I've been interviewed by journalists a few times, am terrible at people in general. (A whole half of these would have been dull and pointless interviews if not for my visual impairment. The others I could see happening regardless.)

[-][anonymous]5y 3

Offer and accept ridiculous dares instead of money when betting on the outcomes of specific queries.

You get to calibrate yourself in a fun way (hopefully), experience things outside your comfort zone, and get a reputation. (Also, see the beginning of Chesterton's Tales of the Long Bow for an example.)

I think a lot could be gained from asking the question of whether being an interesting person or having an interesting life is in and of itself a valuable thing. How much of it is a proxy for something else, and perhaps we could extract the "something else" and it'd be much easier to figure out how to get there? Or, what does one intend to gain by becoming more interesting? And is that thing valuable?

If you're a boring person - you don't have any interesting hobbies and you haven't had very many experiences - then you'll have a much harder time socially. Of course, you can be a super interesting person and still lack the ability to present yourself as an interesting person, but many people need to make themselves more interesting first so that they at least have something to present.

I think our definitions of "interesting" may differ. If we take the angle of hobbies, for instance...

I would say that picking up running as a hobby can provide many social benefits. It's relatively popular, it's virtually omnipresent, it's considered by many to be a 'morally superior' activity, it's likely to make you more attractive in the dating department.

But I wouldn't really call a person interesting only due to having running as a hobby, nor do I consider running an interesting hobby.

Most people, on average, haven't had too many experiences or interesting hobbies by virtue of being the average, but I haven't found that the average person has issues socializing. I'm not sure if being interesting is really all that related to that.

[-][anonymous]5y 0

Reminds me ofThat Old Gang of Mine by Leslie Thomas:)

I wouldn't count running as an "interesting hobby" unless you manage to be very successful, at which case anything becomes interesting. For example, most people would think it to be very cool to meet an olympic level sprinter. That said, it is possible that a hobby can provide many social benefits, as you have stated, without being "interesting".

But most people are not going to be 'very successful', and I am going to automatically assume that this is not included, since it's often statistically exclusionary (only a few people in the entire world can be olympic level sprinters).

It is most certainly not required to be 'great' to be socially successful, or, for that matter, interesting. As for my opinion of the whole 'greatness' chase, see here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/mmu/how_to_learn_a_new_area_x_that_you_have_no_idea/cu3o

"But most people are not going to be 'very successful'" - exactly

Related old post (especially the comment thread)

[-][anonymous]5y 1

I am myself not particularly interesting, and I actually find other people finding me boring to be a good thing, most of the time, since interesting people have to talk more:), however, I know two people who are definitely different, in a good sense. Both are environmentalists, passionate about it, but otherwise very unlike.

One is kind. I have no other word for it. He's just easy to be about, has a sense of humor, makes a funny face if annoyed, sometimes boasts or exaggerates - but somehow, in a way that doesn't wound feelings, downloads tons of music, wears baggy sweaters, is a womaniser, goes to his former flames (mostly successfully married) to play with their kids, was raised by a photographer who welds things from scrap (like 'toy' ships), plays a guitar and something else, travels often, works with GIS (maps records of rare animals), can discuss legislation patiently, does not drink or swear (AFAIK), is rather sickly but quite resilient, and is just generally a person who lets others cool down.

The other is a very focused man, drives people to him by getting shit done, drives them away by careless treatment which he himself doesn't consider an issue (like, he values others' time less than his own, disregards grammar, which sometimes makes his messages impolite), attracts them back when they understand that shit still needs to get done, drinks sometimes (and has been touchingly attentive to his friends so that he'd not offend them awfully under the influence), is quite fearless when it comes to confronting superior odds (and trusts his friends to be fearless, too - a most engaging trait), waves his hands around, vies for being the leader, treats 'his people' as 'His People', shares generously, has a naive appreciation of poetry and a non-naive - of art, been to Antarctica, and generally gets under people's skins:)

[-][anonymous]5y 0

Also, whenever I see a person carrying a large roll, looking like a map, I automatically tag them as likely interesting.

I imagine that there are quite a few benefits from being interesting like gaining status, getting introduced to more people or having more fun. But this seems to come at a price in terms of effort and possibly risk. So can somebody tell a convincing story when this will be a net positive. Or simply: Why?

When you have a low level of interestingness, the marginal utility gained from improving your interestingness will be quite significant. If you have a high level, then you probably don't have to bother too much, but there may still be some actions with minimal cost that might significantly improve your interestingness. For example, if you have never seen a science fiction film before, but you know many people who are interested in science fiction, then you can take half a day, watch a few films and then have something to talk about these people with.

I think there's more to this than having interesting experiences and skills.

Being interesting is largely about being able to present things in an interesting manner. You could have lived an amazing life yet still bore people to tears telling them about it.

"then the high priest threw me in the snake pit, there were a lot of snakes in the snake pit"

As such, a useful skill to learn is how to tell somewhat mundane stories in an interesting or funny way.

I put some effort into practicing speaking more like some stage performers and comedians who tell stories and got good results.

Some people can make a trip to the shops sound interesting, learn from those people.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

You might want to reformat the links. I can barely see them.

It's interesting :-) how in the minds of many the difference between being an interesting person and being socially popular is muddled or even non-existent.

I think I don't think that being interesting to other people and being popular to other people is the same thing. A physical beautiful woman can be popular because he's attractive and not because she's engaging in interesting conversation.

Let me rephrase, then.

I find it curious how many people measure the interestingness of a person by social popularity, existent or potential.

That rephrase still doesn't work. Someone who is super hot may be super popular, but this doesn't mean they'll be measured as being extremely interesting.

But, addressing your argument more thoroughly, interestingness is necessarily dependent on a perceiver. However, it doesn't have to be relative to the population as a whole, it can instead be relative to whatever subgroup of people you fancy.

That rephrase still doesn't work.

Eh? I'm making an observation, not a normative statement. It is also not a claim about everyone.

it can instead be relative to whatever subgroup of people you fancy.

Correct :-) Subgroups can be arbitrarily small up to and including the limit of one -- yourself only.

[-][anonymous]5y -2

Fantastic post.

To push this thread in one particular direction within this parent post, let us consider interestingness as it relates to LWers.

Given that saying that which everyone agrees with (astrology is bullshit for the secular masses, something more sophisticated among LW but particular agreeable here) is likely to solicit karma, and something more cutting edge is likely to solicit both upvotes and downvotes, I suspect a karma score closest to zero among those who already have your high regard due to the content of their posts are those you want to keep an eye on if you want to learn and upgrade your paradigms and have been here for a while already.

Getting a karma score close to zero by balancing agreement and disagreement with the LW herd would mean having (or at least expressing) opinions uncorrelated with theirs. Do you think LWers' opinions are as often wrong as right?

That's ignoring the fact that one gets or loses karma for the perceived quality of what one writes, not simply for agreement or disagreement. For sure that doesn't work perfectly, but it certainly looks to me as if comments with interesting ideas in them, and comments that are expressed particularly well, and meatier-than-average comments, all tend to get positive scores. Looking for someone with near-zero karma means preferring people who don't systematically write interesting, well-expressed, meaty comments.

[-][anonymous]5y 0

Thanks for the added sophistication of your contribution.

Getting a karma score close to zero by balancing agreement and disagreement with the LW herd would mean having (or at least expressing) opinions uncorrelated with theirs. Do you think LWers' opinions are as often wrong as right?

If we consider right to be accurately predicting future events, I don't have any compelling reason to believe a given LW karma giver is any better at predicting the future than not. And, this is after considering the LW annual surveys. From my subjective perspective, I don't intuit any residual karma to explain after incorporating other factors I believe are predictive of karma, that could be attributed to the predictive accuracy of a post. However, given the paucity of data and the informality of my intuition, I could probably be swayed by a well designed experiment with even a small sample size.

That's ignoring the fact that one gets or loses karma for the perceived quality of what one writes, not simply for agreement or disagreement.

Stylistic discrimination is a choice individual users can make at their peril or to their merit. I suppose they will find out. To someone who hasn't found most elements of style (exceptions are notable and cluster around certain linguistic patterns of a number of prominent users which I would be interested to explore at some stage) predictive of personally useful posts on LW such as myself, the observation that you have made re: karma and style adds credence to my position that tendency towards zero can be positively informative. Of course, I'm not blind to the many other dynamics that can explain why else a given user's karma may tend towards zero.

but it certainly looks to me as if comments with interesting ideas in them, and comments that are expressed particularly well, and meatier-than-average comments, all tend to get positive scores.

Through some quasi experimental factorial designed experimental posts I hold a particularly weak position that content must always expressed particular well but does not have to be meatier than average to get a positive score beyond a courtesy +1 to +3 or so, among other consideration that are far more sophisticated than they are useful let alone compelling to post.

I don't have any compelling reason to believe a given LW karma giver is any better at predicting the future than not.

Tomorrow, sunrise where I am will be somewhere around 7.30. In the next year, there will not be a nuclear war. The human race will still exist a century from now. If I roll a hundred ordinary 6-sided dice, some of them will come up 1 but not more than 1/3 of them. The best computer I can buy two years from now for $1000 will be faster than the best I can currently buy for $1000, but not as much as twice as fast. Lawrence Lessig will not be the Democratic nominee for the US presidency in 2016. If you take two objects of similar shape, structure and material, one twice the size of the other, and thump both of them, the larger one will make a lower-pitched sound. Within the next month there will be articles in major UK newspapers saying unflattering things about both David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn, and articles saying flattering things about both. This time next year, the total value of my pension funds will be between half and double what it is now.

I will be very surprised (and you should be, too) if more than one of those predictions is wrong. None of them is trivial. None of them was difficult to make. I am sure you would have no difficulty making a similar set of predictions with similar accuracy.

Even if you "consider right to be accurately predicting future events" (which is, at best, a controversial definition), LW readers -- and people generally, in fact -- are pretty good at being right.

other factors I believe are predictive of karma

What are those other factors, that predict karma well enough that knowing whether what's said is right yields no further improvement in karma prediction on top of them?

[-][anonymous]5y -1

tomorrow

very well said but you're missing my point. I wanted to emphasise any given LW user. Although particular LW users are very good at predicting, they do not appear to be the same ones who take the effort to vote, on aggregate

What are those other factors, that predict karma well enough that knowing whether what's said is right yields no further improvement in karma prediction on top of them?

In my model, karma is already overdetermined, and it's not a very good model, but similar factors that describe human behaviours as is cannon on LW go into that model. I may ellaborate in the future but like I said, probably not worth anyone's time and I'd rather not clarify on it myself than do another thing.

"The human race will still exist a century from now" - could easily be wrong thanks to nuclear weapons

Nuclear war could do us a lot of damage, but it's pretty unlikely to drive us completely extinct. And I think nuclear war -- especially the sort of really big nuclear war that has any chance of driving the human race near to extinction -- is fairly unlikely because it's so obviously not in anyone's interest.

(Note that I didn't claim that those predictions are certainly right.)

Tangentially, it occurs to me that large-scale nuclear annihilation might make for interesting bullet-biting test cases for exotic decision theories. Suppose, e.g., that you're interacting with some other agent and you can see one another's source code (or have other pretty reliable insight into one another's behaviour). A situation might arise in which your best course of action is to make a credible threat that in such-and-such circumstances you will destroy the world (meaning, e.g., launch a large-scale nuclear attack that will almost certainly result in almost everyone on both sides dying, etc.). Of course those circumstances have to be very unlikely given your threat. Theories like TDT then say that in those circumstances you should in fact destroy the world, even though at that point there is no possible way for doing so to help you. So, do you do it?

(UDT, which I think is the generally preferred TDT-like theory these days, says more precisely that you should arrange to be governed by an algorithm that in those circumstances will destroy the world. What you do if those circumstances then arise isn't a separate question. I think that takes some of the psychological sting out of it -- though deliberately programming yourself so that in some foreseeable situations you will definitely destroy the world is still quite a bullet to be biting.)

Stanislav Petrov may be relevant here.

I agree with you about the probability of extinction and of nuclear war.

Regarding the issue of threats to destroy the world, during the Cold War the US and Russia both implied or made threats of that sort. For example, during the Cuban Missile crisis Kennedy explicitly announced that an attack even by a single nuclear weapon (in or from Cuba) would mean full scale nuclear war with Russia.

Kennedy planned the invasion of Cuba, not being aware that Cuba was in possession of tactical nukes which they would have the physical power to use in response to an invasion.

My estimates are: more than 50% chance Cuba would have used at least one tactical nuke in the case of an invasion, and more than 50% chance Kennedy would have made good on his threat to destroy the world.

Cuba was in possession of tactical nukes which they would have the physical power to use in response to an invasion.

Links? Did Russia actually release the control of their (local) nukes to Cubans? I didn't hear about this before.

The paper here says:

"As terrified as the world was in October 1962, not even the policy-makers had realized how close to disaster the situation really was. Kennedy thought that the likelihood of nuclear war was 1 in 3, but the administration did not know many things. For example, it believed that none of the missiles were in Cuba yet, and that 2-3,000 of Soviet service personnel was in place. Accordingly, they planned the air strike for the 30th, before any nuclear warheads could be installed. In 1991-92, Soviet officials revealed that 42 IRBMs were in place and fully operational. These could obliterate US cities up to the Canadian border. These sites were guarded by 47,000 Soviet combat troops. Further, 9 MRBMs were ready to be used against the Americans in case of an invasion. The Soviets had tactical nuclear weapons that the local commanders were authorized to use to repel an attack. After he learned of this in 1992, a shaken McNamara told reporters, “This is horrifying. It meant that had a US invasion been carried out. . . there was a 99 percent probability that nuclear war would have been initiated.”

Of course there's no guarantee that's accurate.

That's not the issue. The issue is control. I don't think the Russian ceded the control of nuclear weapons to Cubans. Even if the Cubans overran the missile bases and got physical control over the missiles, they still wouldn't have been able to launch them.

Kennedy planned the invasion of Cuba, not being aware that Cuba was in possession of tactical nukes

Going by WIkipedia, that's false.

It's pretty hard to eliminate all humans with our current nuclear weapons.

In particular, look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki today.

Even when everybody on LW agrees that astrology is bullshit, I would expect that a post to the open thread or to the rationality quotes thread that has that has it's only content would be downvoted.