Want to be Happy and Successful? Be Curious
Thousands of books are available today offering advice on how to be happy and successful. We’ve even offered lots of ideas elsewhere on our site. But if I could take a stab at distilling every lesson I’ve learnt on the topic into one simple solution, it would be this: If you want to be happy and successful, be curious.
Yes, curious. The word derives from “curiosis” in Latin, meaning a “desire of knowledge” or “inquisitiveness”. Curious souls are more likely than their uncurious counterparts to learn. Better yet, recent research has shown being curious makes learning easier. How’s that for some motivation?
Ultimately, curious souls find greater happiness and success, not just because of their thirst for knowledge, but also because of their thirst for more – more knowledge, more experiences and more opportunities. And they’re not afraid to venture out on a limb and chase down more rabbit holes in their pursuit.
But let’s face it, being curious all the time can be hard work. It requires courage: To boldly go where others have not been before – or at least where you have never been before. It requires putting yourself out there, being vulnerable, and cosying up with failure. Because when you try all the time, failure is part of the deal. Sorry folks, creativity simply doesn’t exist without a healthy dose of vulnerability.
There is good news, however. We’ve all got it. You heard me: Curiosity is something we are ALL born with. I was reminded of this recently as I visited my son’s school for “Dinosaur Day”. I watched with delight as the children’s faces lit up as they excavated “dinosaur bones” out of sand. They were engaged, enthralled and fascinated. When facing a mountain of tasks some days, what I wouldn’t give to have that same level of passion as excitement as their little 5-year-old selves about fossicking in a sandbox!
But here’s what I really came away with that day: Curiosity truly is within us all. It may be lying dormant, beaten out of us over the years, or overtaken by our fears and hang ups. But I know it’s there. Our voracious appetite for knowledge is what defines us as a species.
So, if we can simply tap back into it, stoke that fire again, I believe curiosity can take us places we never thought possible. It will take practice, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. (And the more you practice being curious, the more your children will learn and also value curiosity as a way of being – win!)
So, here you are. My tips to cultivate more curiosity in your life, to create more of everything.
1. Look up
Both physically – look up out of your device, up to the sky and the horizon – and also mentally. Step back. Be aware and mindful. Take moments and time to look at the bigger picture. What else haven’t you seen before, and what else is waiting to be discovered? Take every new opportunity to explore. You might be surprised where it takes you.
2. Be open
Keep an open mind. The older we get, the more we get stuck in our ways. Listen, really listen, to others’ point of view – but more than that, be open to another’s point of view – and be open to new experiences. Train yourself to first think, “let’s give this a try“ before you feel the alarm bells and rush to dismiss a new person, place or experience. By all means, tap into your intuition and be firm on your values, but also have the self-awareness to identify when you’re being close-minded, or just plain lazy. Then give yourself the proverbial kick-up-the-butt that you need.
3. Take the more adventurous option
Say “Yes” to a social occasion you wouldn’t usually go to. Watch a foreign film. Sign up to an art class. Whatever it is, be open to the people/places/activities that put you outside of your comfort zone and into your “learning zone”. Embrace the experiences which pique your curiosity.
4. Ask questions relentlessly
“A child asks 300 questions a day. By middle school, the number is down to practically none. By adulthood, our disposition toward questioning can range from the timid to the hostile.” Harvard Business Review
But, why? Embrace it as a new mantra. Make a vow to yourself to ask more questions, and don’t take anything for granted.
Another one of my favourite sayings is, “You don’t know until you know.” It’s an approach which has launched me headfirst into some scary life experiences, which have ultimately made me a better person. Ten years of my life living in Japan in my 20s led to a deep love and appreciation of Japan as well as fluency in the language; a career change has propelled me down a completely new path which is helping others reach their potential, and an interest in the application of positive psychology in a Chinese setting is leading to pioneering research and thought leadership in this previously unchartered area. It hasn’t always been comfortable, but I can wholeheartedly say it’s been worth every moment of doubt and discomfort.
5. Reframe “boring”
Next time you think to yourself, “I’m bored”, answer me this: Is it really boredom, or are you just disinterested? Without a will, there is no way – so rewire your thinking to work out why the situation is relevant to you. Every new situation lends a new opportunity to learn and think differently. Can you approach the situation with an inquiring mindset?
6. Value rest
In our busy lives we so rarely create “down time”, yet it is so crucial for creativity and curiosity. Research has shown that the brain is anything but idle during downtime; rather, it’s important to our mental processes, enabling the brain to process what it’s learnt. Studies have also shown that sleep can be useful in prompting a creative state – some of the world’s most creative minds have used twilight hours for their best work. Above all, physically sleep is like a shower for your mind at the end of the day: washing the slate clean to prepare for a new day of mental processes ahead.
7. Dare to fail
Finally, when faced with the curious option, go all in. Dr Brene Brown regularly asks the question in her work on vulnerability, What would you do if you knew you would never fail? Do that. Yes, it’s risky, it’s scary, and we’ll never be truly ready. But remaining curious about the “ifs” of life, and pursuing them wholeheartedly – even if you fail –will lead to great happiness and success.
Don’t believe me? Be curious, and find out for yourself.