tulipbloomWe all want to be happy; according to the Dalai Lama, it is “the very purpose of our life.”

Yet despite the incredible advancement of modern-day technology and society, few of us are happy. A 2013 Harris Poll found that only one in three Americans say they’re very happy.

Perhaps this is because the majority of our time is spent in unsatisfying work, repetitive daily routines, and nights passively watching a twittering screen.

But we don’t have to settle for unhappy lives. We’re all capable of achieving happiness and more meaning in life if we adopt the right attitudes and behaviors. Perhaps the most important attitude is curiosity.

Curiosity — a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something — allows you to embrace unfamiliar circumstances, giving you a greater opportunity to experience discovery and joy.

Indeed, studies show that life is better when you’re curious. Here are four science-backed reasons curiosity will drastically improve your quality of life:

1. Intelligence and learning.

Curiosity is the engine of intellectual achievement. Studies show that those who are more curious about a topic tend to learn faster. For example, this study shows that curiosity essentially primes the brain for learning.

Renowned psychology professor George Loewenstein proposed that curiosity is not only a mental state but also an emotion that pushes us until we complete gaps in our knowledge.

2. Social relationships.

Motivational speaker Anthony Robbins was spot on when he said that “the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the quality of your relationships.”

Curiosity is something we all value in our friends. If they’re curious about your life, they’ll show more empathy, offer advice and make an effort to keep things fun. Who wants to be friends with someone who doesn’t care?

This study conducted at the University at Buffalo concluded that the degree to which people are curious directly relates to personal growth opportunities. It also determines how deep of a connection is developed when you encounter someone new.

3. Happiness and meaning.

This study showed that those who were more curious found a greater presence of meaning, search for meaning, and life satisfaction. Why? The life of a curious person is far from boring. There are always new ideas and new worlds to explore, which open up possibilities that are not normally visible.

4. Brain health.

Studies have shown that being open to new experiences keeps your brain active and alert, which can be immensely helpful in old age. In his e-book The Power of Premonitions, Larry Dossey points to research illustrating that women “who regularly engage in mini-mysteries … taking on novel experiences that get them out of familiar routines, better preserve their mental faculties later in life.”

The mind is like a muscle: it becomes stronger with exercise, and there is no better mental exercise than curiosity.

The importance of curiosity is clear. How can you have a fulfilling life without experiencing and learning new things? Fewer people will find you interesting, and you won’t be interested in the wonders of life that are in front of you each day.

While the benefits of curiosity are great news for the already-curious, what about those who aren’t? Should you just give up and accept that you’ll never be truly happy? You could, if you’re not curious about what you’re reading. But if you think that more curiosity would benefit you, the good news is that curiosity can be cultivated. Here are some easy ways:

Read

Reading opens your mind to new possibilities, ideas and worlds, sparking your interest to explore and wander.

Don’t be afraid to delve into a diverse range of topics. Buying a random magazine on a topic you normally wouldn’t read about can feed your curiosity and teach you something new.

Reframe “Boring” Situations

We all experience boring situations, but any event can be turned into something meaningful. Sharpen your observation skills and give attention to something that you would usually miss. Once you take a closer look, you’ll find that what’s boring actually is fascinating.

According to artist and composer John Cage, “if something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

Don’t Let Fear Hinder Curiosity

Curiosity is the perfect counterweight to fear and anxiety. Learn to focus on the positives of any situation. Be optimistic and approach every experience with the intention to gain something positive from it. You’ll probably find that many of your worries don’t serve a purpose anyway.

Always Ask Questions

As Neil DeGrasse Tyson said: “the people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.”

Always ask questions. It’s not only okay not to know something, it’s better. Only then will you be able to learn something new. What journalists call “the five Ws and the H” — who, what, when, where, why, and how — are curious people’s best friends.

Curiosity is making the choice to look deeper into everyday things and seeing their true significance. Realizing that there is much to learn from everyone and everything you can encounter is the first step to living a fulfilling and happy life.