Ever spend time with an inquisitive child? The questions are non-stop, ranging from “why is the sky blue?” to “how does a car move?” In fact, one study estimated that curious children ask a staggering 73 questions a day!1 For those of us with children, grandchildren or young nieces and nephews this is hardly surprising.
But sadly, as we age, that wellspring of curiosity begins to run dry.
The latest research shows we should do our best not to let that happen. That’s because the science suggests that remaining curious can help us live longer, healthier lives.
It’s true, curiosity is good for you. It’s already been proven that curiosity is linked to a better memory and general well-being—especially as you grow older.2 Research also suggests that curiosity is associated with maintaining a healthier central nervous system as you age.
But what about your longevity? The Portuguese writer, José Saramago, once said, “old age starts where curiosity ends.” The science shows he was onto something.
Curiosity Improves Longevity Rates
The first large-scale study into curiosity and longevity began in 1996 with researchers at the Center for Health Sciences in Menlo Park, California. They examined the health and longevity of 1,118 men. The men were on average 70.6 years old when their curiosity levels were assessed. Researchers found that the men who were still living five years later were rated with higher levels of curiosity than those men who had died.3
Since then, researchers have extolled the health benefits of curiosity.
In an interview with TIME Magazine, Laura L. Carstensen, the director of the Stanford Longevity Center, says, “Asking questions and discovering new things keeps you engaged with the world and with other people.”4
Carstensen adds that learning something new can be a form of problem solving. It requires you to exercise cognitive muscles that may have gone slack over time. And like many areas of our health and emotional well-being, time is no friend to curiosity…
Curiosity Wanes With Age
Indeed, studies show that our openness to experience and novelty-seeking – which is highly related to curiosity – decline steadily with age.5 What’s more, your “up for anything” attitude can also wane as you age.
Another study showed that the tendency to try new things for the sake of variety, such as the desire to travel or try a new hobby or sport, declines in older adults.6
Are there ways to nurture your curiosity? You bet!
Five Ways to Increase Curiosity
1. Go back to school. It’s easier than ever to go back to school. Now you can take classes online for free from some of the world’s best universities without leaving your home. Go at your own pace and interact with classmates from around the world online. Learn more at https://www.edx.org/.
2. Become an historian. Perhaps you’d like to dive into your ancestry and learn more about your family or country of origin. Writing down the stories and further researching the places and people we come from can be a satisfying activity for the mind and the heart. In the process, you can leave a legacy for younger family members.
3. Enjoy a hobby as a naturalist. Spending time outside offers a bounty of benefits. Take the time to research what interests you there. It could be identifying birds or learning the names of those pretty flowers that pop up along your walking route. There are plenty of guidebooks to help you, too!
4. Start with a simple question. Think back to when you were a kid and don your question-asking hat. What are you most curious about? Maybe it’s a new skill or hobby or a talent you’ve always wanted to develop but didn’t have the time. Well, now is the time. And be willing to ask dumb questions, says Mike Parker, CEO of Dow Chemical. He says that people often don’t realize “that the dumbest questions can be very powerful. They unlock a conversation.”7
5. Read widely. B.F. Skinner once wrote: “When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it. The feeling of being interested can act as a kind of neurological signal, directing us to fruitful areas of inquiry.” And while you’re at it, skip the Google search and instead opt for a visit to a physical bookstore or library to browse the shelves.
It’s common to associate youth with the desire to enjoy the world without limits. On the other hand, some associate old age with contentment with the status quo and the loss of any inclination to learn more about the world around us. Of course, this isn’t true! But it’s safe to say that all of us who are middle-aged and older should try to revive a little child-like wonder and curiosity in our world.
Not only will this add some zest, intrigue and excitement to your everyday life, you can rest assured you’re increasing your health and longevity, too.
- Sakaki, M., Yagi, A., & Murayama, K. (2018). Curiosity in old age: A possible key to achieving adaptive aging. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 88, 106–116.
- Swan, G. E., & Carmelli, D. (1996). Curiosity and mortality in aging adults: A 5-year follow-up of the Western Collaborative Group Study. Psychology and Aging, 11(3), 449–453
- Roth, M., Hammelstein, P., & Brähler, E. (2007). Beyond a youthful behavior style – Age and sex differences in sensation seeking based on need theory. Personality and Individual Differences, 43(7), 1839–1850.