New research has uncovered a surefire way to take control of your own well-being. Actually, make that two surefire ways. Out of 24 character strengths possessed in varying degrees by each of us, two of them hold up on their own as predictors of well-being.
The first, gratitude, is a no-brainer. People who are thankful for the goodness in their lives, who appreciate the little things, are happier and better prepared to take on life’s challenges. They are also physically healthier and have better relationships. If you’re suffering from depression or other mood disorders, this is a great way to boost your happiness.
It’s the next one that may catch you off guard. The study found that a “love of learning” was the second trait that could independently predict well-being. Those possessing this signature strength are motivated to acquire new skills or knowledge. They are most fulfilled being anyplace — enrolled in school, strolling through a museum — that presents an opportunity to learn. To them, the act of learning is its own intrinsic reward.
Why You Should Never Stop Learning
The benefits of this strength extend far beyond our formal school years. Learning affects our well-being throughout life. It keeps the mind and memory sharp, exposes us to new ideas, makes us feel more confident and helps us lead fuller, more well-rounded lives. It is all about achieving the mental state of “flow,” where we become so absorbed in what we’re doing that time seems to stop and we lose our sense of self. Getting there requires us to be actively involved in an engaging endeavor.
From a 20-something taking up rock climbing to discovering how to make new friends and find old ones on Facebook, learning something new is one of the best ways for us to reach a flow state and feel our best.
The Brain Craves Novelty
By exploring new skills or mastering new hobbies, you’re giving the brain something it craves — novelty. Our brains are wired to search out the unknown. Think about it from an evolutionary perspective. A love of learning has likely saved us from extinction many times over.
What’s more, exposing your brain to something new improves memory and can help you study more effectively. University College London researchers found that people performed better on memory tests when new information was interspersed with the familiar.
Better Brain Health
So give your brain what it wants. Whether you’re looking to change or further a career, yearning to reinvent yourself, or seeking intellectual enrichment or to pick up a new skill, opportunities abound to be a lifelong learner. For those who don’t wish to go back to school, there are lectures, audiobooks, educational travel and countless free resources available online.
Seniors in particular can benefit from continuing their education. Research in the United Kingdom has shown that as we age, intellectual stimulation can lead to a reduced use of medication and an increased sense of well-being, and can even delay the onset of dementia.
Adult Brains Can Grow
New developments in neuroscience psychology have shown that learning something new can actually grow the brain, putting to rest the traditional belief that the adult brain is unable to change in response to novel experiences. Learning to juggle, for example, has been proven to boost both grey and white matter — for good (And it makes you popular at parties). Your brain forms new connections every time you learn something new.