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Curiosity and pathways to well-being and meaning in life: Traits, states, and everyday behaviors

Abstract

This study examined curiosity as a mechanism for achieving and maintaining high levels of well-being and meaning in life. Of primary interest was whether people high in trait curiosity derive greater well-being on days when they are more curious. We also tested whether trait and daily curiosity led to greater, sustainable well-being. Predictions were tested using trait measures and 21 daily diary reports from 97 college students. We found that on days when they are more curious, people high in trait curiosity reported more frequent growth-oriented behaviors, and greater presence of meaning, search for meaning, and life satisfaction. Greater trait curiosity and greater curiosity on a given day also predicted greater persistence of meaning in life from one day into the next. People with greater trait curiosity reported more frequent hedonistic events but they were associated with less pleasure compared to the experiences of people with less trait curiosity. The benefits of hedonistic events did not last beyond the day of their occurrence. As evidence of construct specificity, curiosity effects were not attributable to Big Five personality traits or daily positive or negative mood. Our results provide support for curiosity as an ingredient in the development of well-being and meaning in life. The pattern of findings casts doubt on some distinctions drawn between eudaimonia and hedonic well-being traditions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Existing data suggest an alternative model such that people with greater trait curiosity report more frequent hedonistic behaviors. Pleasure may be a common outcome of more curious individuals’ exploratory tendencies and reward-seeking behavior toward sensory experiences (Oishi et al. 2001). Hedonistic behaviors may be particularly frequent for people taking risks to sustain their high threshold for stimulation and adverse reaction to boredom (the sensation-seeking variant of curiosity; Zuckerman 1979). However, the present study measured general curiosity as opposed to the specific dimension of sensation-seeking.

  2. 2.

    In recent years, more extensive psychometric evidence regarding other, even briefer, Big Five measures has been published (e.g., Gosling et al. 2003). We were not aware of these measures at the time the present study was designed. The scale we used is quite similar to other brief Big Five measures. The items for each dimension are as follows: (1) Openness—imaginative, intelligent, original, insightful, clever, (2) Conscientiousness—organized, thorough, efficient, responsible, practical, (3) Extraversion—talkative, assertive, active, energetic, outgoing, (4) Agreeableness—sympathetic, kind, soft-hearted, warm, generous, and (5) Neuroticism—tense, anxious, nervous, worrying, self-pitying.

  3. 3.

    We thank Robert Biswas-Diener and Laura King for conversations that stimulated many of these ideas.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant MH-73937 to Todd B. Kashdan. Portions of this article were presented at the 2005 International Positive Psychology Summit. We are grateful to Paul Silvia and Thomas G. Reio, Jr. for their comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Todd B. Kashdan.

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Kashdan, T.B., Steger, M.F. Curiosity and pathways to well-being and meaning in life: Traits, states, and everyday behaviors. Motiv Emot 31, 159–173 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-007-9068-7

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Keywords

  • Curiosity
  • Happiness
  • Meaning in life
  • Hedonism
  • Pleasure
  • Positive emotion