Monday 26 January 2015

Curiosity Killed the Cat -- Not!

"I have no special talent.  I am only passionately curious." (Albert Einstein)

I always thought that curiosity was a frivolity.  Cats are curious.  Monkeys are curious (at least Curious George).  But are people naturally curious?  According to blogger Todd Kashdan, one of the keys to happiness is cultivating and exercising our innate sense of curiosity.   Being curious can transform everyday tasks into enjoyable experiences.  Curiosity can help us recognize pleasures in novel experiences and find novelty in familiar experiences.  It can make us feel alive, engaged and more capable of embracing opportunities, thereby helping us to achieve our goals.

A 1996 study of adults aged 60 to 86 conducted by the journal "Psychology and Aging" concluded that the study subjects who were more curious were more likely to be alive five years later when a follow up study was conducted.  A 2005 "Health Psychology" study concluded that subjects who were more curious were less likely to have diabetes or hypertension.  A third study, conducted on children, linked curiousity to a higher IQ.  Three year olds who were curious scored on average 12 points higher on an IQ test conducted eight years later.    

Couples who run into marital troubles often complain about being bored with their spouse.  Curious people are less likely to get bored with their partner thereby enriching their relationship.  Rather than searching for happiness outside their marriage, they try to see the novelty in the familiar.

Curiosity serves as an entry point to a job, a hobby or a passion.  If you are passionate about something, you're usually curious.  Building your knowledge about a topic helps you to be more curious.  For instance, a marine biologist is more likely to notice a special pattern on a fish since he has a well rounded knowledge of marine life.  A child who knows 45 states will be more curious to know the other five.  A piano students is more likely to hear the nuances of a concerto.

The National Public Radio aired a story about a potato chip factory employee who employed his innate sense of curiosity.  His job was to make sure that all of the potato chips which rolled by on the conveyor belt were uniform in size and pleasing to the eye -- a tedious task at the best of times.  However, he made up a game by giving names to the misshapen chips and starting a collection which included Marily Monroe, Elvis and Jimi Hendrix.  The factory worker's day started to move more quickly and he became more efficient at spotting the misshapen chips.  

In order to cultivate your curiosity seek out new experiences which sometimes requires a suspension of judgement on your part.  An 18 year old bodybuilder was asked to learn how to crochet, a hobby that he had previously seen as a waste of time.  After learning how, though, he discovered that crocheting was demanding, meditative and that he could make a flip flop sandal.  He was surprised to find out that he actually liked crocheting.  It reminds me of the Dr. Seuss character who, after resisting eating something new for the whole book, tries it and announces "I do like green eggs and ham!" 

Follow the example of the cat and monkey.  Be curious and reap the rewards!


Fore more information, read Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (2006).

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