Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

How to Increase Curiosity—and Happiness to Boot

By Angela Duckworth — May 26, 2021 2 min read
Does curiosity make me happier?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Why is curiosity useful?
Curiosity helps you process information deeply and remember what you learn. It’s also correlated with happiness. Here’s something I wrote about the topic recently for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:
“Cows don’t get cavities.”
“Really?”
“Nope. They don’t. Surprising, right? They eat all day long. And obviously, they’re not brushing their teeth.”
Mark was getting excited now.
And so was I. It wasn’t that I had strong preexisting convictions about cows and cavities. But nonetheless, I leaned forward, eyes wide, eager to know more.
“Neither do horses,” Mark continued. “Unless you feed them sugar cubes, of course.”
Mark Wolff is the dean of Penn Dental Medicine. He has known for a long time that refined sugar is a massively important cause of cavities—much more important than I’d realized.
At dinner with my family that evening, I couldn’t wait to share my new fun fact. And after dinner (decaffeinated coffee, no sugar), I found myself on an hourslong “wild Google chase,” learning about how sugar feeds the bacteria that naturally live in our mouths, which leads the bacteria to multiply. They digest the sugar, producing acid as a waste product—and the acid erodes the enamel on our teeth.
What good is curiosity—the emotion that dilates our pupils and propels us to ask questions and pay special attention to the information we hunt down?
Recent research suggests that consistent curiosity goes hand in hand with happiness. For 21 days, participants kept a daily diary in which they responded to several different measures of well-being and, in addition, two curiosity questions:
Today, I viewed challenging situations as an opportunity to grow and learn.
Everywhere I went today, I was out looking for new things or experiences.
On a scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (very), the average rating for these curiosity questions was about 3—quite a bit lower than I would have expected—but there was a lot of variability, both across days and between people.
It turns out that consistently high ratings on these curiosity questions were correlated with higher ratings of life satisfaction, flourishing relationships, feelings of competence, and physical exercise.
Of course, with a diary study like this one, it’s impossible to tell whether curiosity causes happiness or, in fact, happiness causes curiosity—or if some third variable encourages both curiosity and happiness. I suspect that, as with so much of life, all three possibilities have at least some truth.
For me, a day when I ask a lot of questions is a very good day. And the two questions in the diary study are a wonderful reminder of how I want to live my life.
Try kicking off tonight’s dinner conversation with this question: “Did you learn anything new today?” Be ready to go first with something you learned. And make sure everyone takes a turn. As Albert Einstein once observed: “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion Educators, Be Future-Ready, But Don’t Ignore the Present
Being ready for what lies ahead is important, but we also need to gain a better understanding of the here and now.
5 min read
shutterstock 226918177
Shutterstock
Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Supporting Teachers & Students
In this Spotlight, evaluate your district and what supports your schools offer, assess attendance policies to avoid burnout, and more
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Child Hospitalizations Spike Under Delta, Particularly in Low-Vaccination States
Nationwide, the number of children and teens hospitalized due to COVID-19 has ballooned nearly tenfold since midsummer, new CDC data show.
2 min read
hopital stethescope 1222194507
Aleksandr Titov/iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Higher Rates of Delta Infection Projected in Schools With No Mask Mandate or COVID Testing
Models project higher rates of infection among students without careful adherence to masking, testing, and other strategies.
7 min read
Emily Jeter helps her son Eli, a kindergarten student, get his mask on before heading into class at Jenks East Elementary School, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Tulsa, Okla.
Emily Jeter helps her son Eli, a kindergarten student, get his mask on before heading into Jenks East Elementary School in Tulsa, Okla., earlier this month.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP