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Curiosity: A vital ingredient for fulfilment and growth

By Sue Langley | 24 January 2013


"You can't always be happy but nearly always profoundly aware and curious", asserts Todd Kashdan, Senior Scientist at the Center for Consciousness and Transformation at George Mason University and author of Curious? Discovering the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life [1].

His extensive research suggests that curiosity can be applied to encourage growth, replenishment and creativity, as well as reset kneejerk pleasure seeking, particularly through short-term gratification (as in this classic experiment with children and adults [2]) or harmful substance abuse.

According to Kashdan, curiosity is a critical positive psychology strategy that makes us more psychologically flexible. We gain vitality and a greater capacity to tolerate anxiety and distress while staying mindful and connected, leading to more sustainable satisfaction for "a life well-lived".


A mindset for continual learning

Curiosity also inspires a mindset of continual learning, an essential quality to cultivate in organisations today.

Jennifer Garvey Berger, author of Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world [3], cites "passionate curiosity" among three principles for supporting people to grow. "Telling people to be curious is hard," acknowledges Berger. We need to look beyond curiosity about facts and be prepared to question our underlying assumptions, even certainty itself. "Look for times you are arguing certainty," she advises. "Be curious about that."

Maintaining curiosity without judgement can be a critical skill when learning new mindsets and behaviours. Looking for the learning opportunity in the often uncomfortable process of change prepares us for more generative growth. Giving ourselves the gift of curiosity or working with a curious and encouraging guide such as a coach or supportive leader can make all the difference in when emerging from challenging times.


How to be curious every day

Curiosity doesn't have to be a tool used just in challenging transitions. We can cultivate curiosity daily, allowing the new experiences and people we are allow ourselves to be curious about to make us feel more engaged, alive, compassionate and whole.

Curiosity is a way of learning more. I like to get curious about people. I find people endlessly fascinating and the more curious I am about them, the less I am concerned about myself.

In anxious situations it is easy to get overwhelmed by your own internal emotions. By getting curious about others my own emotions fade into the background. Personally I also like to be curious in my own life. I love to learn, so getting curious about the way the brain works and human behaviour is essential to my role and inspires me to share what I learn with others. It also makes me more mindful about being focused on one thing and being present in the moment. Curiosity is something I like to practice every day when I am out walking, or in a natural environment.


  1. Kashdan, Todd (2009). Curious? Discovering the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life. HarperCollins.
  2. Garvey Berger, Jennifer (2011). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford University Press.


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About the Author: Sue Langley

Sue Langley

Sue Langley is a speaker, master trainer, global business consultant, researcher and leading advisor on the practical workplace applications of neuroscience, emotional intelligence and positive psychology. She is CEO and founder of the Langley Group of companies and creator of the world's first government accredited Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.

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