Tue, 6 Sep, 2016Georgia Dixon

Key to happiness is a sense of curiosity

Key to happiness is a sense of curiosity

Have you ever noticed how curious children are? They ask questions, pick up things they shouldn’t, put things in their mouth to see what they are – they always want more information. But as adults, we seem to be a lot less curious. Perhaps we are just comfortable in our own world, or maybe we think we have all of the answers already. Either way, research tells us that if we want to experience more happiness, satisfaction and creativity we need to fill our cup with curiosity.

"When curious, we are more comfortable with stress, more flexible in making decisions on how to move in the direction of what is important to us despite obstacles, and it is easier to retain information which allows us to learn and grow," says Todd Kashdan, PhD, a professor of psychology at George Mason University. "Curious people have been shown to experience more positive social outcomes and to more accurately judge certain personality traits after brief interactions. Not only does curiosity lead to a number of psychological and social benefits, but these benefits are observable to other people."

As they researched the topic, two main types of curiosity were found. Firstly we can be interested in finding out about new things or experiences, always wanting to know more about a topic and wanting to be "involved in the fun of new discoveries," says Jordan Litman, PhD, a researcher and associate professor of psychology at the University of Maine at Machias. The second type of curiosity is based on deprivation, which "involves feeling deprived of information you need to answer a question or solve a logical problem," and "is all about reducing uncertainty rather than novelty seeking."

Some feel that our access to phones and the internet has made us less curious to explore the answers to our questions. Most of the answers are on the end of a five second Google search, so why would we spend precious time asking friends for advice or visiting a library to investigate a topic? But we can look at the internet in a more positive way, as it gives us the tools to look deeper into any subject that we choose to with just the click of a button.

So if you want to flex your curiosity muscle, try some of our tips below.

Two ears, one mouth

On the whole, we spend so much time talking and not enough time listening, which is affecting our curiosity. You have two ears and one mouth, so use the ratio of 2:1 accordingly. By asking more questions of others, we find out new information (and people will think you are more interesting by virtue of all of your inquiries). You don’t learn anything by talking non-stop.

Describe exactly how you are feeling

If you’re about to start a new job, people always ask ‘are you nervous?’ to which we mostly just say yes or no. But we are capable of feeling so many emotions simultaneously. You might be feeling nervous, excited, challenged, and happy about the new experience all at once. Being able to identify how you are feeling makes you more able to deal with all of these potentially conflicting emotions. It also makes you less likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to push down any ‘bad’ feelings that you may have and not know what to do with.

Be open to new experiences

This isn’t to say that you need to go and skydive from a plane if that’s not your thing. But on the whole, we have a tendency to stay within our comfort zone and say ‘no’ to things that fall outside our safe space. But being open to something new is a great way to pique your interest and get your curiosity levels right up. You might meet new people, learn a new skill, or learn more about a topic you’re already interested in. Even if you don’t particularly love the activity, you can put it all down to life experience. 

Enjoy some down time

We are all busy, but it’s not healthy to move from activity to activity without any rest between. Give yourself scheduled down time within your busy day to just relax and recharge your batteries. This time to breathe can give our brains a chance to rest but it also opens us up to some mindful questioning which may not come up if you don’t just stop every now and then.

Always ask ‘what else?’

"When trying to understand something or someone, ask yourself, 'What is clear to me and what is it that I still don't know–what's missing? What more is there to learn?'" says Litman. There is always more to know, and if you keep digging you will often find the hidden gold below the surface. "Everything around us is an incomplete, unsolved puzzle that might be better understood by applying additional thoughtfulness and reflection."  

What do you do to encourage your sense of curiosity? Have you learned anything new about yourself or others? We would love to hear from you in the comments.

Related links:

How to build self-discipline in 10 days

7 “bad” habits that are actually good for you

4 proven ways to worry less