“If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?”
That question has been asked time and time again in countless polls and surveys. Overwhelmingly, the number 1 answer is…greater happiness. Most people want to be happier- in our personal lives, our relationships, and our work. Parents want it for their children. And most parents are not happy unless their kids are. If you have children, no doubt you’ve said this about a million times:
“I just want you to be happy.”
In a 2007 survey of more than 10,000 people from 48 countries published in Perspectives on Psychological Sciences, happiness was viewed as more important than success, intelligence, knowledge, maturity, wisdom, relationships, wealth, and meaning in life.
The word happy is rooted in the Middle English word hap, meaning “good luck.” Many of the early European words for happy actually referred to good luck, rather than a feeling of joy. On its own, happy means an enjoyable or satisfied state of being.
- The Oxford English dictionary defines happiness as a “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.”
- Merriam Websters Dictionary defines it as “joy or a state of well-being, a pleasurable or satisfying experience.”
Whether you define happiness as a state of being or an emotion, what we think will make us happy often disappoints us when we actually get it. Harvard University professor Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D. found that we are actually less likely to find joy as a result of a planned pursuit than when we stumble upon it. In his book Stumbling on Happiness, he examines the direct correlation between happiness and curiosity.
“People want to be happy, and all the other things they want are typically meant to be a means to that end.” – Daniel Gilbert, PhD
Gallup conducted a survey of more than 130,000 people from some 130 nations, a sample designed to represent 96 percent of the world’s population. The poll identified two factors that had the strongest influence on how much enjoyment a person experienced in a given day: “being able to count on someone for help” and “learned something yesterday.” Developing good relationships and personal growth are essential for a happy life – and both require curiosity.
Two pioneers in the field of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., and Chris Peterson, Ph.D., devised a scientific classification of the basic human strengths. Their research eventually recognized 24 basic strengths. Of those strengths, curiosity was one of the five most highly associated with overall life fulfillment and happiness.
Psychologist Todd Kashdan and author of the book Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life believes that one of the most reliable and overlooked keys to happiness and creating a fulfilling life is cultivating and exercising our innate sense of curiosity. Kashdan explains, “That’s because curiosity — a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something — creates an openness to unfamiliar experiences.”
A wealth of research shows that curiosity has many benefits. Cultivating curiosity is likely to make you smarter, healthier, and happier with your relationships. When our curiosity is triggered, we are more open-minded and we make fewer decision-making errors that result from confirmation bias, stereotyping and flawed assumptions. Curiosity reframes problems as challenges and enables flow which encourages creativity and strategic problem solving. Curiosity also counters anxiety and depression which significantly limit cognition and mental acuity. Curious people report more satisfying relationships and there is evidence that it delivers a variety of health-related benefits.
The Bottom Line
Curious people succeed. It’s the common thread that connects leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, and lifelong learners. The most successful people make curiosity their superpower, and in turn, they enjoy more fulfilling work, have more meaningful relationships, and are more inspired to learn new things. That kind of success creates crazy good happiness!