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Do we want our people to be happy at work, or would we prefer they prioritise curiosity? Can they have both?

In a 2009 paper on Curiosity and Interest [1], the authors discussed the difference between the two emotions. Curiosity has us looking for the new and exploring the unknown. Happiness has us gravitating toward the familiar and the comfortable.

“Interest motivates people to try new things, explore complex ideas, meet intriguing people, and do novel actions. Enjoyment, in contrast, motivates people to form attachments to familiar things and to reinforce activities that were enjoyable before.”

We often talk about ensuring people are “happy at work”, but is this really what we want? If the organisation (which doesn’t exist) is oriented towards growth and innovation then it would seem there is a preference for the people in the organisation to be curious, and maybe a little uncomfortable, over being happy.

This leaves us with some interesting questions:

  1. What is the impact on happiness if we are asking people to be curious?
  2. Can people at work be both curious and happy?
  3. If we prefer people were happy at work, what is the impact on innovation and growth?

Curious questions.


[1] Kashdan, T. B., & Silvia, P. J. (2009). Curiosity and Interest: The Benefits of Thriving on Novelty and Challenge. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.