Is Curiosity the Key to Happiness?

a curious toddler explores a watering can

Do you remember being curious as a child? Exploring your world and discovering new things every day? Do you remember the thrill of working out how something worked or finding out everything you could about your latest passion? Perhaps you broke things or hurt yourself along the way, but you were always on the quest for new knowledge and understanding.

Some people never lose their childhood curiosity and wonder about the world. But for others, life takes a different turn, and they may learn that the world is a dangerous, uncertain place and that sticking with what they know is the safest, albeit limited, route.

Is Curiosity the Key to Happiness?

There’s been a lot of hype around the science of happiness in recent years. Ever since Martin Seligman published his book Authentic Happiness in 2002 and introduced the concept of Positive Psychology to the mainstream media, happiness has become the Holy Grail of the 21st Century with people desperate to learn the secret to lasting happiness.

But what if you could lead a fulfilling life by simply being curious? According to Todd Kashdan, Professor of Psychology at George Mason University in Virginia, the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life is curiosity.

He believes that the greatest opportunities for joy, meaning and personal growth come when we are mindful, curious and able to embrace uncertainty.

In a fascinating interview with Lynne Malcolm on the All in the Mind podcast from ABC Radio National, Professor Kashdan suggests that allowing ourselves to be led by our natural curiosity will enable us to be open to newness and change and provide us with a deeper sense of engagement in life.

Curious People get More Out of Life

In his research Kashdan found that people who exhibit high levels of curiosity experienced higher levels of satisfaction with life than their more disengaged peers. They reported finding a greater sense of meaning in life, which is a better predictor of sustainable, lasting happiness.

This is probably because curious people are likely to be rewarded for their efforts over the long run, either by making new social connections through a new activity or by mastering a particular skill like playing the piano.

Professor Kashdan cited studies of adolescent school children in New Zealand which showed that, regardless of how intelligent children are, the more they seek out stimulation and are curious, the more intelligent they become over time, the better they do at school, the more satisfied they are with school, the better relationships they have with teachers.

Curious children also secure more resources, get more opportunities, develop stronger social networks and generally do better in life.

What is Curiosity?

Curiosity begins with a sense of wonder. It starts with the question: I wonder…? I wonder what would happen if…? I wonder what it would be like if…?

Being curious about something, a person, a subject, or a situation immediately puts us on a voyage of discovery. We’re looking for answers, for information, for skills, or for purpose in life.

What is the Function of Curiosity?

Curiosity has always served a purpose in the survival and development of mankind. It was curiosity which helped develop a knowledge base of which berries were healthy or poisonous, and led to the development of tools. It was curiosity which led to the exploration of different ways of interacting with people so that you could seduce someone and pass on your genes, or persuade and influence others or develop strong friendship bonds.

Curiosity versus Fear and Uncertainty

What strikes me most about curiosity is that it is the opposite of being fearful and uncertain and needing to be control.

Kashdan says that if we don’t feel that we can handle uncertainty and the unknown we’re not going to feel curious; we’re going to feel confused or we’re going to feel threatened.

So often in the past, when I’ve been stuck or depressed, my therapist or coach has encouraged me to be curious. To ask myself what I really wanted, to explore what would happen if I did one thing differently, to be open to new experiences. It’s the spirit of curiosity which has helped propel me forward, ready to engage again with life to the full.

After all, nobody can predict the future. The best we can do is to be curious about all the people and events life throws our way.

How to be Curious

Professor Kashdan suggests you start by asking questions. For five minutes every day choose an activity and approach it with the intention of searching for intrigue. Ask questions about anything that you want and be open minded to whatever comes up.

Resist the temptation to look smart, to sound intelligent, or to try and disagree with people, and just be there with people that you don’t know what they’re going to say and they’re probably going to have values that differ from your own.

…the beauty about curiosity is that we can’t always be happy but we can almost always intentionally go into a moment, a social interaction, a business meeting, go onto our iPhone and check our email with an attitude of receptiveness and curiosity.

Curiosity is an attitude. A change in the way you approach people and events. It can lead to more playfulness and fun in your life and it will also help you to find your purpose in life by enabling to explore new areas, take new directions and find out what is meaningful to you.

So, go on, ask yourself: I wonder…?

Listen to the All in the Mind Podcast

Photo: Thanks to Matt Cunningham Photography on

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2 Responses to Is Curiosity the Key to Happiness?

  1. Anna Sayburn June 10, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    What a wonderful thesis, Angie. Curiosity may have got me into some trouble over the years, but I’d have missed out on so much without it. ‘I wonder…’ is a good starting point for any story, any recipe, any adventure.

    • Angie Macdonald June 11, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

      Hi Anna. I love the idea of using ‘I wonder…?’ as a starting point for stories, recipes and adventures. Now, I’m particularly curious about the trouble you’ve found yourself in over the years… 🙂

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