The Key to Happiness

The Key to Happiness. Can you guess? (Hint: It’s not sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.)

The more I studied the subject of happiness in preparation to write this piece, the less happy I felt–literally overwhelmed with both scientific and anecdotal prescriptions for this elusive state of being. Exercise more, improve your relationships, be mindful, find a good friend at work, be generous, have gratitude, be flexible, lower your expectations, set and pursue goals, get more leisure time, make some money, pursue a passion, clean up your house, ad nauseum. Gaack! The last thing I want to do is to make happiness more work than it’s already been made.

So let me offer one simple suggestion that’s not a lotta work: find your curiosity.

Why is curiosity the key to happiness? Because it’s the antidote to the decidedly unhappy feeling of anxiety that’s endemic to human life itself. During literally every moment, we’re poised on the precipice of the unknown. Will my mother drop me on my head? Will a car run me over in the next instant? Will disease unexpectedly strike? Will I lose my top client or get laid off from my job? Will I be able to afford health coverage? Will my intimate partner hurt my feelings or criticize me? Will my lover “be there” for me? Will people just be nice to me today? Will I be good enough? Will I be loved? Yes, anxiety is both ubiquitous and universally felt. In fact, anxiety and its associated disorders represent the most common form of mental illness in this country.

So how is curiosity anxiety’s antidote? Curiosity is a state of wonder and exploration, of possibility. It is growth and transformation-seeking even in the face of adversity. Finding our curiosity, also referred to as our “exploratory drive,” is a central tenet of Yvonne Agazarian’s brilliant Systems Centered Therapy (1997)–the essential ingredient of our ability to continually develop and transform despite life’s challenges. Is it any wonder that curiosity has been scientifically shown to correlate with our wellbeing (Kashdan, T.B. & Steger, M.F., 2007)?

This is not to say anxiety is bad per se–after all, it serves us well by motivating us to anticipate and plan to handle threats and, as I will explain in my next newsletter, it can even be of great benefit. However, unless we’ve converted our anxiety of productive effect, it is of little use but for self-torture.

Enter then, curiosity!

Agazarian, Y.M. (1997). Systems centered therapy for groups. New York: The Guilford Press.
Kashdan, T.B. & Steger, M.F. (2007). Curiosity and pathways to well-being and meaning in life: Traits, states, and everyday behaviors. Motivation & Emotion. 31(3), 159-173.