Forget happiness. Wellness equals curiosity

Think of wellness, and what comes to mind? Happiness? Peace of mind? Joy?

The wellness industry has fed us that line for years now, and we’ve swallowed it. To be well, the conventional wisdom goes, we have to be happy. And to be happy, we have to … well, what, exactly?

There’s the problem. Who defines happiness?

No, wellness doesn’t equal happiness. But if that’s true, what exactly is wellness?

I’ve recently stumbled across a couple of thought leaders who have gone back to the wellness drawing board and come up with some interesting theories.

It starts with curiosity
The first is Todd Kashdan. The clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University wrote a book a few years back called Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. In it, he makes a compelling argument that the secret to wellness is curiosity.

“Curiosity is hard-wired in the brain, and its specific function is to urge us to explore, discover, and grow,” Kashdan writes. “Without curiosity, we are unable to sustain our attention, we avoid risks, we abort challenging tasks, we compromise our intellectual development, we fail to achieve competencies and strengths, we limit our ability to form relationships with other people, and essentially, we stagnate.

“To be sure, curiosity is not the only quality that contributes to a happy, meaningful, and fulfilling life,” he adds. “That being said, it’s hard to think of a human endeavor where curiosity doesn’t play a vital role. … Few areas are more worthy of our time and effort than enhancing our ability to be curious.”

Curiosity drives motivation
Kashdan also writes, simply, “Curiosity motivates us.” Which leads to the second piece of thought leadership I’ve seen on wellness recently.

It comes from Dan Pink. The best-selling author of Drive, To Sell Is Human, and A Whole New Mind gave the keynote address at the recent Leading To Well-Being Conference in D.C., and he didn’t mince words: “Motivation and wellness are joined at the hip,” he said.

So what motivates us?

Pink says money continues to be a key motivator, but let’s assume you pay your people a fair wage and have removed money from the equation. If that’s true, Pink says we’re left with three key motivators:

  • Autonomy: People do their best work when they’re given control over how they do that work. “We’re trying to manage people into engagement when we should be using self-direction,” Pink said. “You never hear, ‘The best boss I ever had was amazing — she breathed down my neck all the time!’”
  • Mastery: “When are people motivated on a daily basis?” Pink asked. “When they feel they are making progress in meaningful work.” Give your people a path toward self-improvement, and they’ll move mountains for you.
  • Purpose: Pink explains it this way: “Stop explaining how we do it. Start explaining why we do it.”

The roots of all three of those motivators are found in Kashdan’s notion of curiosity. Think about it: If you’re not curious, you won’t have self-direction, you won’t feel the need for self-improvement, and you won’t care why you do what you do. You’ll be lost.

I had an opportunity to speak with Pink after his keynote address. Listen to our conversation here:

[youtube id=”h_bONPBS2rE”]

Anticipation: The missing competency
Curiosity also drives what might be the most important skill of all: The ability to anticipate future trends and the game-changing opportunities they present. If you’re not curious about what lies ahead, you won’t be looking for it.

Futurist Andrew Zolli said as much a few years back when he described great leadership as the ability to detect weak signals of disruptive change.

Fellow futurist and best-selling author Dan Burrus agrees.

“What’s the missing competency?” Burrus asks. “It’s the ability to anticipate — to anticipate problems before they happen, disruptions before they disrupt, new opportunities before your competition can see them. … Every business process is being transformed in a short amount of time. It’s going to happen. The question is, will you do anything about it? If you can see what will happen before it happens, you have a huge advantage.”

The good news is, we can learn how to do that. Burrus will teach us how as part of “The Anticipatory Organization,” a special in-person appearance on May 4 at the BWI Hilton. Get complete details and register here.

The futurists are right: We won’t make any progress if we don’t take the time to set aside the day-to-day crap and look to the horizon.

Todd Kashdan is right as well: We won’t ever get to that point if we’re not curious about the world around us. Those two notions — curiosity and anticipation — are joined at the hip. When we climb higher, we see farther. When we see farther, we spot opportunities. When we spot opportunities, we grow. When we grow, we want to grow more … and so we climb higher.

Get curious, then get smart.

Your future depends on it.


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