I envy my cat. Other than snuggling with a warm human, his greatest joy comes from chasing a scrap of paper tied to a piece of string. His curiosity, no doubt from a primitive instinct to hunt, gives him hours of tireless entertainment. Who would have thought a makeshift toy could bring such fun?
Curiosity can make us happier
Our sophisticated brains also have the ability to watch a scrap of paper transform, or for clouds to morph into a graphic novel.
However in our over-stimulated lives, we filter so much of the information form our senses or avoid exploring ideas on subjects we know little or nothing about. Sometimes it feels easier to stay locked into our fixed mindset.
But if we bought a sense of novelty and curiosity to what we experience, could it make us feel happier?
Psychologist Todd Kashdan has been exploring the realm of emotions for decades. Through his studies he’s discovered that cultivating a sense of curiosity plays a vital role in generating positive feelings.
”Curiosity goes beyond the idea of embracing novelty, and is about accepting and relishing the unknown.”
Paul Kashdan, All in the Mind
While the science behind the therapeutic benefits of curiosity is relatively new, its roots are ancient. “Beginners mind” is a central practice in Buddhism. It’s often defined as “having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and freedom from preconceptions when approaching anything.”
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
I was introduced to this concept through my first tentative foray into Buddhism in my twenties, Decades on, while I’ve become more ‘expert’ as a naturopath, I hope that by repeatedly returning to beginners mind, it’s keeping me real. There are so many different ways to explore health, the ‘tried and true’ is a useful starting point but remaining open and curious to all the possibilities, is an incentive to always keep learning.
Get over yourself!
Seeing the world through curious eyes tends to remove the ‘I’ from the experience. Get over yourself, in other words! Curiosity can help shift a funk, even if it’s only for a few moments to begin with.
When walking down the same road every day or commuting to work, it’s so easy to switch off actively engaging our senses and retreat to into our minds. This is only shattered if encountering something out of the usual. Or perhaps, when the internet connection is lost on your mobile phone.
Being in the moment, another aspect of Buddhism and mindfulness, is a companion tool to being curious. We can be in the moment in our body (listen to our heart beat, observe our breath or the sensation of the air on our skin), curiosity can be within, and without.
Curiosity is a great tool to take us out of our ourselves and into the environment, to revel in our senses and see things anew. It helps us be truly present. It really can turn your mood around.
Play and wonder
Scientific research demonstrates a strong correlation between curiosity and experiencing positive emotions, for some this includes happiness.
For now I’m enjoying being a beginner in my exploration of curiosity, without limiting it to the pursuit of happiness.
Who knows where integrating more play and wonder into your day will lead you? But you’ll never know unless you give it a go.
Curious to read more
Wise words to stoke curiosity.
“Cultivating curiosity rather than questing after a state of hollow bliss is the key to wellbeing.”Radio National, All in the Mind episode on curiosity and interview with Todd Kashdan.
“If you’re curious about something, it acts as a positive counterweight to anxiety and fear”. Cultivating Curiosity, Psychology Today.
“Curiosity — a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something — creates an openness to unfamiliar experiences, laying the groundwork for greater opportunities to experience discovery, joy and delight”. The Power of Curiosity, Experience Life.