Curiosity killed the cat? Not exactly. Evidence continues to emerge about the benefits of being an inquisitive, interested person. Not only does staying wide-eyed about the world make life more fun, it also has a number of surprising benefits.
Here are five reasons why curiosity is great.
It can strengthen your relationships.
Your curiosity about people and the world around you can make your social life richer. If you demonstrate an interest in what someone has to say and maintain many of your own interests that you can discuss, people probably enjoy spending time with you.
"Curious people are often considered good listeners and conversationalists," Ben Dean, Ph.D. wrote in a newsletter for the University of Pennsylvania. "In the early stages of a relationship, we tend to talk about our interests or hobbies. One reason for this is that people tend to equate 'having many interests' with 'interesting,' and for good reason. Curious people tend to bring fun and novelty into relationships."
“Keeping your brain mentally stimulated is a lifelong enterprise,” David Knopman, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said, according to Bloomberg. “If one can remain intellectually active and stimulated throughout one’s lifespan, that’s protective against late-life dementia. Staying mentally active is definitely good for your brain.”
It can help you overcome anxiety.
It's perfectly normal to be nervous before a big date. But your curiosity and excitement about getting to know an attractive new person might push your anxieties into the background.
"Socially anxious people who experience high levels of curiosity, or appraise certain events as having a high possibility to satisfy curiosity, may be more likely to engage in approach behavior amidst conflicting avoidance motivations," according to a study published in 2009 by psychologist Todd Kashdan in the Journal Of Anxiety Disorders.
It correlates with happiness.
One theory on happiness is that we develop a "happiness set point" at an early age. We're at this baseline happiness level most of the time, and the level goes up or down depending on positive and negative life events. Kashdan, who authored the book Curious?: Discover The Missing Ingredient To A Fulfilling Life, argues that staying curious can kick our set point up a few notches.
"When we experience curiosity, we are willing to leave the familiar and routine and take risks, even if it makes us feel anxious and uncomfortable," Kashdan writes in his book. "Curious explorers are comfortable with the risks of taking on new challenges. Instead of trying desperately to explain and control our world, as a curious explorer we embrace uncertainty, and see our lives as an enjoyable quest to discover, learn and grow."
It can help you learn pretty much anything.
A new study published in the journal Neuron found that it's much easier to learn not-so-interesting things when our curiosity is piqued. For instance, if what you're trying to learn just isn't sticking, try watching 10 minutes of your favorite TV show between study sessions. It'll give you a nice break, and it will pique your curiosity, stimulating your brain's pleasure center. When you return to studying, your brain might be more willing to let in some of that information you thought was boring.
"Look for ways to connect the uninteresting things you have to learn with something you're curious and excited about," Lifehacker suggests. "Whatever makes you tick can be used, even if it's not actually related. Study in between 10-minute sessions of that show you're addicted to, go over presentation talking points while playing a new video game, or place study index cards throughout that new page-turner."
Just don't let the innocent 10-minute break turn into an all-night Netflix binge.