Learning or doing something new and different has been proven to enable a positive attitude and happiness. This was one of the first things I learned when I started to study happiness a long time ago.
This finding continues to show up in new studies, and it seems to be universally accepted by happiness experts. These behaviours also have many other benefits, including improving brain health, avoiding dementia, Alzheimer’s and the like.
These days, with technology exploding around us and new gadgets available at every turn, it’s easy to find new things to learn, but it sure can get overwhelming. It’s a struggle to stay current. And at a certain point in our lives, whether we want to admit it or not, many of us begin to stick with what we know – and avoid new challenges.
When writing this, I started to wonder if that may be the defining moment where we actually begin to become ‘old’ – the instant when we first consciously avoid learning something new, as opposed to embracing a challenging, novel task. It gave me pause. I immediately googled a few things I’ve been meaning to learn more about.
I have a daily reminder on my calendar that says ‘do something new’, so it’s always at the top of my mind. On my best days I learn something awesome. But every day is not my best day. On those days, it can be as simple as going to visit a different part of my office building, or taking a new route to the store, or buying a shirt in a colour I have never worn, trying a new lipstick, or parting my hair on the opposite side. But darn it, I’m doing something new every day!
Because doing new things helps boost happiness. Those with an innate sense of curiosity are usually most likely to try new things. When you think about it, it’s interesting that curiosity leads us to explore things that are not known to us. Not only does curiosity prompt us to venture into uncharted waters; in some cases, it takes us way outside our comfort zone.
It seems like these two things should be in conflict, but the brain and body, as usual, are wiser than we are, and so as we explore new ideas, hobbies, acquaintances, thoughts – we get a happiness bump.
Why? Because curiosity is a healthy quality, and our brains and bodies want us to continue to experience it. The minds of curious people are more ‘awakened’. In fact, health, intelligence, relationships, happiness, and sense of purpose in life are all positively correlated with curiosity.
Curious people are more interesting to others. More importantly, curious people are also more interested in those they spend time with. Often, curious people are less likely to be bored because they notice things that others may overlook. Further, curious people tend to have broader perspective on issues. And perhaps most importantly, curiosity slows people down. If you are curious, you are more likely to be more mindful and fully experience the moment.
For all these reasons, being curious helps people to dwell less on troubles, and more on the positive aspects of their lives. Thinking back to when we were children can help us remember what it is like to be curious. Curiosity was an integral part of our state of being. Think about all the ‘why’s’ we hear from the average 5-year-old. And those who are naturally curious as adults tend to be happier. Fortunately, those who may have lost touch with their own curiosity can take action to help renew their sense of wonder.
What topics have you always wanted to know more about? Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, you no longer have to buy books to try out a new subject. Read an article or two online and see what captures your interest. Then, go buy books. (I still love the feel of a book in my hand, how about you?)
Curiosity goes beyond ‘book learning’ though. It’s a natural state of being. Next time you find yourself in a new environment, actively take in the details of your surroundings. What colour is the carpet? How many people are in the room? If we were asked to describe those people, what details would we remember? Is the room cold or warm? Inviting or intimidating? Is there a fragrance or odour in the room? What does it remind you of?
Let’s decide that we are curious people. What would a curious person do after reading this? Was there anything in this article that made you want to read more? Who did it make you think of? Do you want to talk with them about it? Listen intently to how others respond when you do: another hallmark of natural curiosity is talking less, and listening more.
Joan Senio is a mental health blogger who runs My Best Friend Adeline.