If you clicked on this article, you understand curiosity. Everyone wonders from time to time. But can being curious actually make you happier?
What is curiosity?
Curiosity is a strong desire to learn or know something. Often curious people don’t technically “need” the information they’re looking for — they seek answers simply for the sake of gaining knowledge. Curiosity is a key part of learning because it helps allow the brain to make connections among various pieces of information.
What’s good about being curious?
Curiosity can create new experiences, strengthen the mind and broaden horizons. According to astrophysicist and author Mario Livio, there are two types of curiosity:
- Perceptual curiosity is what you feel when something surprises you or doesn’t quite agree with what you think you know. It can be unpleasant, like an itch you need to scratch.
- Epistemic curiosity is a pleasurable feeling associated with the anticipation of a reward. You know that when you find an answer to your question you will experience satisfaction. It’s this kind of curiosity that drives things like scientific research, education and even art.
Is there anything bad about being curious?
If you’ve ever “fallen down a rabbit hole” on the Internet, you understand curiosity’s negative consequences when it comes to productivity. You go to find the answer to one simple question and, seemingly all of a sudden, two hours have passed while you read about weird laws in Tennessee. (Did you know it’s illegal to catch a fish by lasso? Now you do.)
It’s also important to consider how our digital world affects our curiosity.
- On one hand, if you have a specific question, the answer is at your fingertips. Finding information quickly frees up your mind to focus on more important things and may spur you to wonder about new, related things.
- On the other hand is a phenomenon called digital amnesia. We may have a tendency to forget information that can be found readily online, and up to 25% of people may forget an answer immediately after finding it. So we’re learning, but we’re also quickly forgetting.
Does curiosity make you happier?
Yes. Research has shown curiosity can be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, satisfaction and well-being, and with lower levels of anxiety. Scientists believe that’s because the urge to seek out novelty helps humans gain knowledge and may be why our brains evolved to release dopamine when we encounter new things. Curiosity has also been shown to boost academic performance, make us more empathetic and strengthen our personal relationships.
So keep on asking questions. They may be one of the keys to a happier life.