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“The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.”
Evolutionarily speaking, it’s easy to see what drove most primitive human actions. All behaviours were focused on promoting survival: food, shelter and sex. However, as we evolved, we were able to consider matters that were less central to our survival. While other animals continued to forage for their next meal, human beings began to look to the skies and wonder why we were here.
This big question of meaning is central to human nature and is driven by our curiosity. We must be curious about something to learn about it and then search for explanations to create our hypotheses.
Curiosity, roughly defined as the desire to learn about anything and everything, spurs us to initiate our trek down the path to intuition and discovery about the world around us. But what drives this innate tendency?
Where Curiosity Begins
Famous psychologist Jean Piaget described children as “little scientists” in his revolutionary theory of Cognitive Development. He elaborated on this by stating that children are constantly wondering and making their own hypotheses about how the world works.
As any parent can attest, children are always inquiring about the world around them. Many a mom and dad have dreaded the infamous “Why?” question uttered from the mouth of their four-year-old son or daughter. “Why is the sky blue?”, “Why does it get dark at night?” Rarely will you find a child at this stage that has no questions which need to be answered.
Children are so new to the world that they are unashamed to show their lack of knowledge by asking the people around them who seem to know everything. Unfortunately, as we age, we become less willing to reveal the gaps in our knowledge and tend to prefer to rest on our laurels and not think about what we don’t know.
The Benefits of Curiosity
Remaining curious about the world is the essence of our growth as human beings, and we will continue to reap the rewards from it in our journey of self-discovery and search for meaning. The main benefits of curiosity are:
Curiosity aids survival
When we engage in the novelty-seeking behaviour, we are training our brains to be more receptive to the environment that surrounds us, which helps us become more aware of threats and potential rewards.
Curiosity makes us happier
Curiosity has been highly correlated with positive emotions, lessened anxiety, life satisfaction, and psychological well-being. This correlation with positive emotions is partially due to the brain’s release of dopamine, our “feel good” hormone, which is released when we encounter new things.
Curiosity leads to success
People who engage in curious thought tend to enjoy their schooling much more than those less prone to curiosity. This enjoyment tends to result in higher academic achievement due to more active engagement and interest.
Curiosity makes us more empathetic
Curiosity allows us to be more interested in what makes the world tick, which often centres around the human beings we regularly encounter. Greater effort to understand the lives of those who differ from us allows us to expand our worldview and become more accepting of our differences.
Curiosity helps us form bonds with others
Wondering about the troubles that others are facing, as well as how they view the world at large allows us to create deeper connections with the people we meet. In turn, curiosity is contagious, so showing interest in the lives of others is likely to result in them becoming curious about yours.
It is apparent that engaging your inquiring mind can offer you many advantages. But how can you foster a curious mindset?
Four Ways to Ignite Your Curiosity
One of the key ingredients of curiosity is remaining fascinated by what you don’t know. As children, we are always thinking about all of the things that we don’t know. However, as adults, we often forget that recognising our own ignorance is an advantage.
Try thinking about something you’re interested in, but don’t know much about and heading to the library to check out a book on the subject, looking it up online or watching a documentary about it to learn more.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Curiosity and the great ideas it can engender do not just appear out of the blue. People who engage in curious thought are always wondering about what is being taken for granted in their environment.
For one afternoon, try exploring the world as a child would. Take a walk in the park and really take care to observe your surroundings and savour this fresh perspective. Bring a notebook and write down questions that come to mind about the scenery, the other people you see, or the wildlife you meet along the way. This activity can also help to inform your exploration in step 1.
Ask the Big Why
Throughout our day to day activities, we are constantly interacting with the “what” of life. However, we rarely pause to consider why we’re acting the way we do. The next time you find yourself going through your daily routine, pause to consider what the goal is each task and how they are working toward a greater purpose.
Pay Attention to the Boring Things
All of us are familiar with boredom. We can all recall a situation where we were forced to listen to someone drone on about a topic that felt immensely uninteresting to us. One of the biggest advantages curious thinkers have is that they can turn the boring into the exciting by only paying enough attention.
Try this out with a coin. Take a moment to examine it in full, observing the scratches that litter the faces of the coin. Think about all of the hands that the coin has passed through and the lives those people might have led.
Take Home Message
Curiosity in inevitable. Every one of us has possessed this valuable trait since birth and used it frequently throughout our childhoods. Unfortunately, most of us have years and years of purposeful knowledge stacked on top of that curiosity, making it difficult to extract its innocence. Lucky for us, we can clear the dust away from our curious minds and view the world as a child again.
“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” –Walt Disney
Campbell, E. (2015). Six surprising benefits of curiosity. Greater Good. Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_surprising_benefits_of_curiosity
Leslie, I. (2014). Curious: The desire to know and why your future depends on it. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Pioneers in our field: Jean Piaget – Champion of children’s ideas. Scholastic. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/pioneers-our-field-jean-piaget-champion-childrens-ideas