Step Outside Your Life: How Curiosity Is Good for You
Curiosity Cured the Cat
The benefits of having a lively, curious mind fully engaged by the world are both plentiful and diverse. Curious people tend to be more open-minded, more confident, better at problem solving, and more successful at their jobs. Perhaps the best bonus of all? They actually live longer, says Gary E. Swan, PhD, director of the Center for Health Sciences at SRI International, a Menlo Park, California, scientific research center. Even when such risk factors as cancer, cardiovascular disease, smoking, and high blood pressure are taken into account, the most curious adults -- measured on a psychological scale called the State-Trait Personality Inventory -- had lower mortality rates than their more stick-in-the-mud peers.
Almost as important as longevity itself is the enhanced quality of life that Dr. Swan's team found among curious elders: They were happier and less prone to depression and anxiety and scored higher on tests of cognitive ability.
"Human beings are social animals and our moods are contagious," explains Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of Exuberance. "People who are interested in the world tend to be interesting to others. So someone who's curious and energetic draws people to her."
And if these measurable advantages aren't compelling enough, just think about how intrinsically satisfying it is to learn or experience something new. When she's planning a vacation, for example, Shellie Michael, a college professor in Nashville, likes to research her destination in depth. "I learn everything I can -- the history, the culture, the plants and animals there," she says. "It's great -- my vacation before the vacation."
My sister, Lori Renkl, felt the same unexpected boost when she signed up for a belly-dancing class. "I wanted a different kind of exercise," she recalls, "but by the time the first class came around, I wasn't in the mood. I forced myself to go anyway and it turned out to be so much fun! Within 15 minutes I felt 100 percent happier."
Okay, you're convinced: Curiosity didn't kill the cat -- it cured the cat. But that still doesn't solve the time dilemma. The trick, Hall believes, is to treat curiosity like any other item on your to-do list and schedule it in. After a while it becomes second nature to take the time to attend that lecture or visit that museum. And because pursuing these activities feels good, you're more apt to say yes the next time. And the time after that.
"It's like a seedling, with little leaves and roots starting to push out," says Hall. "Once you become more interested in things, wonder starts to emerge in your life, and you'll find that you are more creative and energetic. It's like coming to life again."