How Curiosity Can Boost Our Well-Being
We’ve all heard that “Curiosity killed the cat,” but a lesser-known reply to that proverb is “…But satisfaction brought it back.” The first part warns us of the dangers of unnecessary exploration in the world; whereas, the reply suggests that the satisfaction of knowing is worth the risk of finding out.
Curiosity is often portrayed as a double-edged sword—you may uncover new information, but venturing into unknown territory can feel, temporarily, uncomfortable. Why take the risk if you don’t have to? But, when you indulge your curiosity, you gain the opportunity to broaden your horizons, not to mention the satisfaction that comes from personal growth. The more you challenge yourself to seek out novel experiences and perspectives, the more insights you gather about yourself, others, and the world.
What Is Curiosity?
Curiosity is the desire to pursue novel activities, sensory experiences, and interactions that involve challenging your mind, ability, or perspective. Opening the door to curious enquiry says you’re willing to learn and are opting for a challenge over the status quo.
This quote from Albert Einstein sums up the benefits of curious enquiry nicely: “A mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.”
Highly curious people are likely to:
- Explore and seek out new and uncertain experiences
- Ask questions
- Challenge views of the self, others, and the world with an inevitable stretching of knowledge and awareness
- Be more reactive to events that offer opportunities for growth, competence, and stimulation
How Curiosity Boosts Well-Being
Curiosity is strongly and positively related to gaining life satisfaction and meaning in life. An increase in life satisfaction has also been reported by people taking part in a curiosity-enhancing intervention that required them to carry out more curious behaviors such as engaging in new-to-them activities. Being more curious can fuel creativity, possibly because it encourages greater exploration and linking of ideas during the creative-thinking process. Curiosity may even be contagious, as people are more curious about the answers to questions if they know others are interested in finding out the answers, too!
Curiosity is also deeply important for building social connection, empathy, and understanding. The different views, experiences, and values of others offer more undiscovered territory to explore, which may bring untold benefits.
Nurturing a greater understanding and awareness of other cultures, customs, values, and ideas is a form of social curiosity. Empathetic curiosity is about pondering others’ experiences and being interested in them, without judgment. Of course, curiosity about other peoples’ experiences needs to be appropriately timed and respectful of personal boundaries.
When we are empathetically curious, we suspend our need for familiarity and acknowledge that our viewpoint is not the only one that matters. As we become more aware of the experiences of others, we can appreciate how different viewpoints and ways of doing things are no less important, meaningful, or deserving of respect.
How to Access and Engage Your Curiosity
Whereas feelings of enjoyment and pleasure are typically associated with doing things that are familiar and comfortable, curiosity demands you seek out the new and unknown. This could be as simple as changing up your go-to takeout order for something you’ve never tasted before, getting to know a colleague you’ve never spoken to, or watching a documentary on Netflix you’d normally scroll right past.
These may not be big, bold moves but they are small ways to inject some curious discovery into your everyday experiences and create an opportunity for challenge, learning, and connection with others.
Below are some other ideas to ignite your curiosity:
1. List some activities that provide opportunities for you to learn or grow your competence. Seek them out and reflect on the benefits of stretching yourself and what you can gain from the experience.
2. Try questioning your perspective in certain situations. Ask yourself why you think or behave in a certain way.
3. Ask questions and pay attention—suspend judgment and be curious about others’ experiences and different points of view.
4. Experiment with new choices at your own pace. Notice when you’re seeking the comfortable and familiar and when you’re willing to stretch yourself and try something new.
5. Ask yourself, what’s stopping you from being curious? Are there small ways you can experiment with novelty that are exciting and rewarding, but not too daunting?
So, when you next hear the phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat”, try to remember that new experiences and interactions can bring great rewards.
Helen Brown is a freelance writer specializing in psychology and wellness topics. She has a Ph.D. in psychology, an MSc in occupational psychology, and a varied background working in mental health and wellbeing.
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