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Mental Health

Research: Curiosity Is the Secret to All-Day Happiness — Here’s How to Unleash Yours

Learn how the DIVE (Detach, Intend, Value, Embrace) method can lessen anxiety

Lately you’ve been feeling like you’re just going through the motions, neither happy nor sad, just ho-hum. What if there were a way to boost bliss and light a fire under your passions? There is, and it’s deceptively simple: “Studies show when we’re curious, our brain releases dopamine, the same happiness hormone that’s unleashed when we eat a delicious meal or have sex,” says curiosity expert Scott Shigeoka, author of Seek: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Transform the World.

Shigeoka explains that a major myth surrounding curiosity is that we’re either born with it or not. But the truth is we’re all hardwired to be inquisitive, and we can easily strengthen this stress-slashing muscle. “Demonstrating curiosity brings people together in both directions: when you’re inquisitive about others, you feel happier, and the other person feels seen, like they truly matter,” he says. “While we tend to think of it as purely intellectual, curiosity can be incredibly heart-centered and used as a powerful force for connection.”

Spark curiosity and happiness through these four steps

Shigeoka explains that we can flex this natural desire to devour knowledge in three ways: outwardly (focusing on people around us), inwardly (asking ourselves how to create meaning and purpose in our lives) and spiritually (exploring the meaning of the divine or a power beyond ourselves). “The deeper you go, the more benefits you’ll reap,” he says.

Related: Experts Share 4 Proven Ways to Embrace Your Authentic Self and Unleash Joy

Appropriately, Shigeoka’s four-step strategy to foster greater curiosity is called DIVE: Detach, Intend, Value, Embrace. Read on to delve into each dimension of curiosity and unleash greater joy every day.

Woman holding hand to heart and smiling

1. Detach from assumptions

When your mother-in-law visits, you could swear she lifts an eyebrow at your clutter-challenged surroundings. “I didn’t have time to tidy up before she dropped by,” you think. “I know she’s judging me.” “A big part of curiosity is letting go of ABCs: assumptions, biases and certainties,” explains Shigeoka. “Ask yourself how you might be wrong about something you’ve taken for granted — are there other ways of looking at a situation?” This simple question instantly widens your perspective and puts you into a more curious, hopeful mindset.

Related: How To Get Out Of Your Own Way: Psychologists Share The Two Words That Transform Self-Sabotage into Success

Embrace curiosity and happiness by releasing “meta perceptions”

To detach from negative assumptions that may be constraining you, release “meta perceptions,” encourages Shigeoka, explaining that this simply means letting go of what we think the other person is thinking about us. “These perceptions are typically wrong or exaggerated,” he says. “A big part of detaching from such biases is to stop mind-reading — instead of feeling certain that you know what the other person is thinking, get curious by asking yourself what else they might feel about you.” For example, you mother-in-law might think you’re funny and compassionate and a nurturing mother.

As soon as we question our ABCs, we open up a whole new world of possibilities. Another way to “detach” from the stress-inducing effects of the mirage of certainty, is to become an “admitter,” he adds. “Simply acknowledge when you’re wrong or don’t know something —research shows people who show humility and curiosity are seen as more competent and tend to be better liked.”

2. Intend to create a haven of curiosity and happiness

After a long day, you come home to an even longer list of to-dos, until one chore leads to another, and suddenly it’s time for you to turn in without having had a moment to yourself. “Before we can reap all the benefits of curiosity, we must find a relaxing setting conducive to it,” says Shigeoka. “Ask yourself where you feel rested and psychologically safe.” The answer will help you create a “sanctum of introspection,” boosting curiosity and allaying anxiety.

Related: How to Find Contentment: 3 Expert Tricks to Channel True Serenity

Pinpoint the place where you feel most open-minded

Foster a curious mindset by making the simple intention to find the place where you’re most relaxed and open-minded, encourages Shigeoka, revealing that many people discover this cathedral of curiosity in nature, as awe and wonder open the door to exploring and questioning the “divine,” or forces bigger than ourselves.

Back view of woman sitting by lake
Ascent/PKS Media Inc./Getty

Indeed, studies show that one of the best ways to become happier is to become smaller, by getting curious about the everyday splendors around us, from the limitless sky on a clear spring day to the humble yet majestic sparrow perched on a tree limb in your local park. “Just as we must stretch before we run, we first have to find the right setting to spark curiosity before we can tap into it.” Spending just a few minutes a week in your curiosity haven is shown to make you happier and less self-critical.

3. Value yourself and others

When you put your heart and soul (and more than a few late hours) into a work project, only to see it met with meh reviews from your supervisor, you instantly beat yourself up: “What went wrong? Why did I fail?” While in the moment it feels like this line of questioning will help you understand the best way to move forward, self-criticism under the guise of curiosity only keeps you stuck. Indeed, Shigeoka notes that the cornerstone of heart-centered curiosity is non-judgmental questioning, so that you can pinpoint your values.

Related: 7 Ways to Ease Work Stress — Including the Desktop Decoration That Can Dial Down Tension Fast

Focus on what creates meaning in your life

Rather than interrogate yourself after a perceived setback, show yourself grace by gently asking yourself what creates meaning in your life, encourages Shigeoka. If your inner critic is telling you that you failed, for example, get a little curious about how you’re defining failure — are you being fair to yourself? Have you learned anything that might help you succeed in the future? Did the course you were on lead to joy or is there something else you would like to pursue that might give you greater purpose?

This inward-directed curiosity not only boosts your resilience by helping you understand yourself better and adopt a growth mindset, it also triggers ripple effects of compassion. “When we show ourselves grace, we can more easily extend it to others, and respect the dignity of everyone we’re curious with,” says Shigeoka.

Curiosity is earned through mutual trust, and knowing when to ask people more about themselves or sensing when to slow down and step back stems in large part from knowing our own values. In other words, once we’re in tune ourselves, we can turn that curiosity and happiness outward and use it to foster deeper connections.

4. Embrace the best and worst case scenarios

As the specter of layoffs loom, your worries mount and rather than plan potential next steps, you begin to almost shut down and avoid looking at the path ahead of you. Avoidance is a natural defense mechanism, but when we stifle or suppress future-focused thinking, we can’t problem-solve and our stress only increases. “Curiosity is an antidote to fear,” declares Shigeoka. Indeed, it might be said that the only way through it is to question it.

Related: 4 Easy Mind Tricks That Can Help You Perk Up and Let Go of Stress Fast

Get curious about concrete actions

When you’re anxious about the future, get curious about the concrete steps you might take, so that you can embrace both negative and positive outcomes. “Rather than avoiding scary stuff, ask yourself how you might overcome it,” urges Shigeoka. That might mean jotting down three small steps like updating your resume, reaching out to an old colleague for a referral, and, perhaps most important, giving yourself permission to visualize an entirely new path forward.

Woman sitting outside and writing in journal
Heide Benser/Getty

If we don’t let ourselves see the connection between curiosity and happiness, fear and worry can take over, but embracing both the best-case scenario and the most challenging outcome doesn’t simply help us prepare for the future, it helps us shape it. As Shigeoka puts it, “Just as visualizing successful outcomes is shown to improve athletes’ performance, so does curiosity help us create the future we want.”

Read on for more expert tips to boost your mental health:

Stressed? Tired of Making Decisions? Experts Share 4 Easy Ways to Give Your Brain a Break & Find Peace

The ‘Three Good Things’ Approach Is The Simple Balm You Need If You’re Burned Out

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