Is Curiosity The Secret To A Fulfilling Life?
Learning how important curiosity is to a sense of fulfillment has been a life-altering realization for me. I know I'm not alone in this. When researchers asked individuals about the single most satisfying event they had experienced in the past year, the vast majority named a novel experience that created an opportunity for curiosity. (1) After all, what is more human than exploration?
Curiosity defined means "The recognition, pursuit, and desire to explore…There is a feeling of interest in a situation where a potential exists for learning. There is a desire to seek out novel experiences.” (2) Studies have shown that a higher level of curiosity is linked with feelings of happiness, while a lower level of curiosity correlates with depression. (3) Research shows that being curious can improve wellbeing, empathy, learning, and overall sense of life satisfaction. (4) Curiosity connects us to our childhood sense of wonder when the world was a magical and mysterious place. Curiosity reminds us that it still is!
Curiosity And Chronic Illness
While some people may be natural 'Curious Georges', everyone can cultivate curiosity. Over time, positive emotions and traits can build up inner strength and resources to meet life challenges. Acting on curiosity cultivates the motivation to further explore and learn in new or unfamiliar circumstances, leading to the development of knowledge, creativity, and satisfaction. (5)
People with chronic illness have relatively few 'levers' available to them to improve their sense of life fulfillment and wellbeing. The usual prescriptions like exercise, time in nature, or socializing are not always feasible. But curiosity is one avenue wide open to us. At first, this may seem counterintuitive - if I am tired, not able to travel, or hurting, how can I act on my curiosity? We can answer this in several ways.
Curiosity is not just for nerds who like to read textbooks. In fact, curiosity doesn't need to be explored using the written word at all. Curiosity can apply to exploring sensations (what things look, sound, smell, feel, or taste like) or creative pursuits, which don't necessarily require intellectual powers of concentration. Curiosity can be fed in small bursts, like 10 minutes of listening to a podcast on a topic of fascination to you.
What Type Of Curiosity Describes You?
Did you know there are different types of curiosity? Researchers have created a multi-dimensional model of curiosity to describe these different types. (6) I was surprised to learn this at first, but when you think about the varied obsessions of children, it makes a lot of sense.
- Joyous Exploration – some kids are drawn by sheer fascination to endlessly ask “why” about topics like ancient Egyptian mummies or dinosaurs. This reflects the conventional understanding of curiosity, which is to learn more about a subject that interests you.
- Problem Solving/Skill Development – other kids like to figure out how things work – these are the kids who take apart gadgets, obsessively build Lego constructions and machines, or are motivated to learn everything they can to improve abilities in creative or athletic pursuits.
- Social Curiosity – these are the social butterflies and observers of human nature, more interested in how everyone gets along than in playing a game to win.
- Thrill-Seeking – finally, you have the kind of kids whose parents are shocked when they make it to adulthood alive because they fearlessly climb the tallest trees and toboggan headlong down the biggest hills without looking first. Life, for them, is an endless adventure.
You likely have an intuitive sense about which dimension(s) of curiosity best describes what you find interesting. What fascinated you as a child? Identifying your intrinsic type(s) of curiosity can point you in the right direction when you take your first steps on a journey of discovery.
As your interests expand, pursue dimensions of curiosity outside your comfort zone, which is often the most rewarding type of experience. If you tend to feel safe with "book-learning" or facts, consider cultivating your green thumb or learning the basics of drawing. If you tend to be interested in practical or creative pursuits, consider a virtual archaeology tour or non-fiction audiobook. The trick is to find an adult equivalent to your childhood interests, which is also illness friendly.
How To Cultivate Curiosity In All Dimensions
Joyous Exploration: There is a way to make lying down with your eyes closed an enriching experience, and that way is through podcasts and audiobooks. If you haven't tried listening to podcasts yet, you won't regret starting. Imagine millions of radio shows on all your favourite topics, available at the tap of your finger – from true crime to crafting, ancient history to modern politics, design to espionage, and mom life to wellness – you will never be bored again. With brain fog, I listen in short bursts of 10 to 15 minutes or simply repeat episodes. Audiobooks have let me 'read' again, which is the greatest gift (pro tip – your public library may have a free audiobook app for "borrowing" books). If you are not sure what to answer when people ask you about your 'interests and hobbies', podcasts can help you discover where your curiosity leads, through trial and error, by listening to a wide variety of different topics.
Problem-solving/Skill development: There are online tutorials, blog how-tos, and courses for every practical or creative skill you can think of, from arts and crafts to coding. Recently, I decided to try candle making – one Pinterest board, several blog tutorials (and a messy kitchen!) later, I was lighting my very first scented candle, with not a little satisfaction. You don't need to take on making sourdough bread or learning a language, however. Being able to appreciate enjoyable things is also skill. Try finding new music in your favourite genre or watch new (to you) films from a certain era or taste different types of coffee and tea from around the world. For example, I started photographing flowers and plants encountered on daily walks and looking them up in a plant identification app, so that I can recognize and name them. Now that I've started noticing, I like watching the flowers bud and bloom and berries ripen through the seasons.
Social Curiosity: If you feel energized by interacting with other people, are invested in community and interested in human nature, then you might find intentionally pursuing this dimension of curiosity to be fulfilling. While social media may be the obvious place to go, it's important to find positive and safe platforms. In general, #ChronicIllness posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms are much kinder than the average social media post. There are many private support groups on Facebook and other forums where you can share your experiences and learn from others.
However, sometimes reading about the illness experience of many people can be overwhelming. In this case, connecting over shared passions is a great option, such as joining a jewelry making or history podcast Facebook group. If you prefer in-person interactions, the website and app Meetup connects you to local groups, like book clubs, film meet-ups, support groups, social clubs by age or interest, and everything else under the sun!
Thrill-Seeking: My favourite discovery of 2021 was the free global tours website Heygo, which connects you to local guides offering one-hour tours of amazing sites all over the world. Everything from a tour of an ancient Egyptian temple at sunset, to a picturesque town in Brittany, France, is available for free (but tips are encouraged). Taking a tour is a wonderful adventure on a Saturday, even if illness keeps you at home.
I am interested in trying virtual reality adventures, which offer "images, games, or software that offer a 180° or 360° field of view," and are a truly immersive technology that can connect you with the fun, adventure, and even excitement you may be missing. (7) It's not just for games, though. For example, you can experience being underwater in a cage watching sharks swim around you, instead of watching Discovery Channel. Virtual reality headsets range from a cheap Google cardboard version and free Google Arts and Culture tours to pricier headsets and apps offering global tours that take you to Antarctica, East African savannahs, ancient Greek temples, or the pyramids.
Whatever your style, cultivating your curiosity might be the secret to a more fulfilling life.
- Kashdan, T. "How to design a psychologically ideal life: The case for novelty." The Wellbeing Lab. Retrieved from https://toddkashdan.com/how-to-design-a-psychologically-ideal-life-the-case-for-novelty/
- Kashdan, T. "The five-dimensional curiosity scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people." Journal of Research in Personality, vol. 73 (2018): 130-149. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656617301149
- Lydon-Staley, David M et al. “Within-person variability in curiosity during daily life and associations with well-being.” Journal of personality vol. 88,4 (2020): 625-641. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31519052/
- Campbell, Emily. "Six surprising benefits of curiosity." Greater Good Magazine, (2015, 24 September). Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_surprising_benefits_of_curiosity
- Pino, Nick. "Virtual reality 101." Tech Radar, (2020, 13 June). Retrieved from https://www.techradar.com/news/virtual-reality-101-your-beginners-guide-to-getting-into-vr-games-movies-and-apps