“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.” wrote Samuel Johnson.

We all have things we’re curious in. But we don’t always know how to cultivate sustained curiosity nor why is curiosity important.

We’ll look at how to do so. But first, if you’ve been having problems being curious, it may be down to the paradox of curiosity.

The paradox of curiosity

Curiosity is not what you think it is. As I wrote in my article on mastering your goals:

“[E]xamples of state changes would be a change in social status or happiness and wellbeing. State changes are in fact extremely difficult if not impossible to measure accurately since they’re usually intangible. They’re also often relative to other states themselves.

This in turn makes reliance on state changes more ephemeral and hard to pin down. It’s the intangible nature of state changes that makes them difficult to obtain directly. So people pursue numerous ‘markers’ associated with state changes with the hope that they’ll lead to improvements but the reality is these markers are at best ostensible rather than being directly correlated with the state improvement.”

In his book ‘Trying Not To Try’, Edward Slingerland states “Many desirable states—happiness, attractiveness, spontaneity—are best pursued indirectly, and conscious thought and effortful striving can actually interfere with their attainment.”

Curiosity is the same. It’s a state that cannot be measured or pursued directly.

As with happiness, trying to become curious directly is self-defeating. Setting a goal to become curious about x won’t work. Instead, it’d remind you that you have a lack of curiosity towards it and a void to fill.

Many attempt to fill that void through force of will. But forcing curiosity is oxymoronic. Willing yourself to be curious about something means you aren’t curious about it in the first place. You become the dog chasing its own tail or the man trying to bite his own teeth.

So why is curiosity important and how do we cultivate it?

Cultivating curiosity – why is curiosity important?

There’s little we can do skillfully without curiosity underpinning it.

Curiosity is the bedrock of our motivation. Without it, we risk leading a life of misalignment.

Moreover, curiosity is the hallmark of a sound mind. A curious person is an intelligent person and an intelligent person is a curious person.

Einstein embodied this when he said “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” It was curiosity that drove him to profound insights in the long run over sheer intelligence.

What separates an intelligent person is a deep curiosity about the subject or problem such that they will continue to think about it for longer than others. This results in them learning more in the long run instead of moving on like many others would.

You don’t need to be a polymath to have a healthy curiosity about the workings of the world. It just means you should change your approach to doing so.

Why Is Curiosity Important Cultivating

In my article on goals, I also wrote that the most important part of pursuing goals was to focus on the process.

This applies to curiosity. Understand the mindsets and behaviours conducive to curiosity. Then let go and give yourself to the process.

This way you place yourself on the path where inspiration can strike you. You don’t operate in denial trying to force from the outside that which can only arise from the inside. But you’re not inert either.

What are the features of such a process?

Undertake new experiences

I’d like you to take a moment and ponder your answer to this question: 

“Do you know what you like in life?”

Easy? So you should be able to answer this:

“Do you know what you don’t like in life?”

More or less? Now, reflect on this one:

“Do you know that you know what you don’t like in life?”

This last question isn’t as easy to answer. Whatever we like in life, there’ll always be a ton of other things we either don’t know about or don’t like. But when we reflect on why we don’t know or like those things, we often don’t have solid reasons to dismiss them. In most cases, the reason is that we haven’t engaged with them before—hardly a valid reason to disregard something outright.

There’s a lot of upside to exploring new domains. In my article on an experience-oriented life, I stated:

“The novelty of the adventure is what charges the experience with significance. If you could know exactly how your mind and body would engage with an activity beforehand, the experience wouldn’t be worth undertaking.”

You can’t know everything about a new experience beforehand and be curious about it.

It can be as simple as committing to doing one new thing a month. Choose whatever appeals to you. Pick up a new hobby. Start a new way of keeping fit. Hold your own event. Visit a new country.

When you do something new, you allow for the possibility of further intrigue that you otherwise wouldn’t have had you not started. For all you know, you might be a tuba savant.

Pick up new things and eventually, a deep curiosity will follow for some, if not several of them.

Adopt mindfulness – remove curiosity hindrances

It’s no secret that in the the Information Age we live in, people find mindfulness harder to achieve.

Much has been said about the assault from different stimuli on our attention spans. Between social media, viral videos, push notifications and a whole host of other sources, it seems like we hardly have time to pay due attention to any one thing in particular.

We live in an era where many travellers are more concerned about the photos or videos they take of their destinations than the actual place itself. Despite being at a site in person, they choose to experience it through the screens of their phones rather than immerse themselves mindfully.

Counterintuitively, having your attention hijacked from one thing to another isn’t curiosity. Why is curiosity important?—because it’s not superficially reactionary to what we encounter. Real curiosity is a prolonged interest in the subject matter. It makes you focus on something for as long as is necessary.

This is exactly what mindfulness cultivates. Being present with whatever you’re engaging in. Spending enough time and attention on something to allow the seed of intrigue to grow.

How do we cultivate mindfulness? The most famous method is to incorporate a conscious practice such as meditation into your everyday life.

But we can also approach this the other way by removing curiosity hindrances. Conquer your own mind by limiting how much different sources of stimuli hijack your attention. Reduce how much time you spend on passive media such as social media outlets and series binges. Cut back time spent on fixed routines that don’t interest you.

All these methods share one thing in common—they give you space. Then when you engage with something interesting, it’s in this space that curiosity can blossom.

Why Is Curiosity Important Mindfulness

Ask WTF?

Another moment of reflection. This post is published in 2023. Think about what you’re doing right now. If you were to tell someone from 1923 that you’d be reading about lifestyle design and personal development abroad through a screen from anywhere in the world that you found through a ‘digital ether’ called the internet, they would have laughed at you.

Sometimes it pays to pause and reflect on the opportunities and resources we have available at our fingertips compared to bygone eras. It’s awe-inspiring.

Ability to access the world’s knowledge at the push of a button? Awe-inspiring.

Commercial aeroplanes allowing us to travel to every corner of the Earth in under 24 hours? Awe-inspiring.

Real possibilities to work from wherever you want in the world? Awe-inspiring.

We take what we have nowadays for granted because we’ve grown up around these developments. But for most of human history, our ancestors didn’t experience such progress.

Why Is Curiosity Important Technological Progress
Source: Image from ‘Our World in Data

The notion of having a sense of awe-inspiring wonder from the world around us isn’t new. But more than ever, there’s so much to discover and learn. You can gain inspiration from looking up at the sky as you can from a piece of software on a computer. These are the positive ‘WTF?’ moments that can be found everywhere.

It helps to start by following through on whatever inclination you have towards something, however small it may be. That’s the intrinsically-generated seed of curiosity your body has given you and it’s more powerful to pursue that then force interest in something else. If Egyptian papyrology tickles your fancy, follow up on it no matter what others think.

There’s no right and single way to indulge in what you’re curious in. Renowned physicist Richard Feynman once said “Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”

If you like to read, read. If you glean more from podcasts, let your ears do the work. If you prefer a hands-on approach, learn in person from those who know more than you.

Let your interest take you wherever it needs to with the domain you’ve chosen. That way, you’re making the subject matter your own, reinforcing your interest in a way that benefits you.


When we ask ourselves “Why is curiosity important?”, we realise that it’s the lifeblood that underpins so much of our motivation for our life’s endeavours.

We face a paradox with the cultivation of curiosity. Like happiness, it cannot be attained through direct pursuit. Instead, we must learn to let go and follow a process that makes it more likely to flourish.

One of the ways to do this is by committing to engaging with new experiences. Exploring this way will result in a deep curiosity in some domain(s) eventually.

Another is to develop mindfulness. Present engagement allows us to deal with the subject matter with intent which makes it more likely that we’ll generate curiosity.

Lastly, we can always find ways to be awe-inspired by the world around us. Be somebody who asks questions and follow where your interests lead you.

You can choose to be fascinated by the wonderment of life and the closer this wonderment is aligned with intrinsic interests, the more likely your curiosity will penetrate to the core of truths and discoveries.