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Curiosity, Hedonism, and Self-Esteem 

Curiosity, Hedonism, and Self-Esteem 

By Kim Byrd-Rider


Curiosity, Hedonism, and Self-Esteem 

Interestingly, four year-olds playing basketball at their local YMCA do not keep score during games.  The YMCA prohibits score keeping with the intent of preserving the “little ones’” self-esteem to improve their continued quality of life. Valid and reliable research reports high self-esteem breeds violence and aggression (Baumeister, Boden, & Smart, 1996), not quality of life. When psychology made the term popular 1960’s, parents and teachers have obsessed over building self-esteem, often using sources like praise to achieve it. If self-esteem were the desired goal, praise falls short. Praise contributes to ego-centricity and narcissism (Jongman-Sereno, 2017).  While the circus of praise and increasing self-esteem strategies continues, curiosity remains overlooked and undervalued. 

If the goal is to improve well-being and life satisfaction, the trait of curiosity is as high achieving as gratitude and kindness in this realm (Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Otake et al., 2006). Curiosity is a trait, not a virtue. Curious people move toward complex, uncertain and/or novel activities (Tomkins 1963; Turner & Silvia, 2006). The curiosity trait is associated with the willingness to choose activities that develop skills, increase potential, stretch abilities and it promotes self growth-oriented behaviors (Tomkins 1963; Turner & Silvia, 2006).   Pleasure, joy and other emotions strengthen relationships but curiosity intrinsically (as opposed to extrinsically) motivates exploration of the self and world (Tomkins 1963; Turner & Silvia, 2006). Intrinsic motivations are more powerful than extrinsic motivations. Curiosity expands knowledge and skills (Tomkins 1963; Turner & Silvia, 2006) and is most definitely a protective factor for mental and physical health. So why is curiosity not cultivated as a major asset in scholastic settings, homes or social settings? 

Americans have a strong tendency to strive for high pleasure and high stability goals instead. For example, schools promote development for a stable job and entertainment revolves around pleasure seeking. Parents strive to provide both for their children.  Commercialism uses pleasure and stability motivations to promote their goods. These motivations, implanted in advertisements, provides propaganda for pleasure and stability equating to improved quality of life. This is a false correlation, according to Kashdan and Steger’s research (2007). 

In reality, pleasure and stability are weak motivational substitutes for curiosity. When compared to pleasure and stability, researchers found that curiosity-based novelty and challenge seeking increased personal well-being longer and with more sustainability than pleasure and stability (Kashdan & Steger, 2007). Even after controlling for personality traits and positive/negative affect, the study documented that well-being findings increased over time with curiosity, meaning in life and life satisfaction. Pleasure events do not predict future meaning of life or life satisfaction and led to less search for meaning in the days following a pleasurable event (Kashdan & Steger, 2007). Pleasure events can also be described as mood-boosting, sensation seeking and Hedonism. Hedonism is associated with material consumption, substance abuse, and sex; all of which increase short-term life satisfaction but do not have daily carryover ability (Kashdan & Steger, 2007). Stable, simple and familiar properties positively correlate to pleasure related feeling. Curiosity positively correlates to growth, expansion, knowledge, skills and goal directed effort, making it different from other positive emotions (Ailey et al., 2002; Crozier, 1974; Cupchik & Gebotys, 1990). It may be time to set aside stable, simple, and familiar (pleasure) motivations/goals and promote curiosity as the foundational motivation for future endeavors. 

Strategically this should be implemented early in life.  The Montessori education method, taught to preschoolers, implements this methodology by allowing children to guide themselves to various activity-stations they are curious about. The children curiously ask questions of the teacher, instead of the teacher guiding the activity. Montessori has shown success with increasing curiosity in young children (Justice, 2017).  Implementation of curiosity at age three, four and five seems optimal for life span usage but why must only children benefit? Executive brain processes continue to change and develop throughout a lifetime (Volkman, 2018).  Curiosity can be introduced, accepted and life changing at any age, according to the well accepted and thoroughly researched theory of brain plasticity (Lamprecht, & LeDoux, 2004; Volkman, 2018). 

The children of America are America’s future but, arguably, the geriatrics of America are America’s future too. America has given up on the societal contribution ability of the geriatric community.  Geriatric people are gathered together and encouraged to go into nursing homes or senior living facilities/neighborhoods. Some live secluded and alone. Whole communities, the size of cities, are now dedicated to senior living.  Shopping malls, hospitals and golf courses thrive within them for the geriatrics’ pleasure. Step down programs are available when the geriatric person’s health deteriorates, enabling the person to stay in the familiar community. Aligned with the movie “Stepford Wives”, these communities revolve around familiarity, stability and pleasure: the ultimate American retirement goal. As outlined here, it is the really the ultimate trap into hedonism. 

Geriatrics are arguably America’s future. They posses all that the 20, 30 and 40 something crowd desperately strives for: wisdom, knowledge, experience, patience and perspective. Geriatrics’ ultimate asset (which no one seems to have and everyone complains about) is free time. Yes, some of them only have 10 years left to live but why is society not hyper-vigilantly nurturing, improving and gleaning geriatrics’ assets?  Maybe society needs to take away familiarity, stability and pleasure which lull geriatrics into hedonism, then nurture their assets, with curiosity building activities, and plug them into the new generation as models and guides? This seems to be more productive to humanity than the self-indulgent pleasures of golf and shopping malls. 

Inter-generational day-care facilities for geriatrics and preschoolers, with healthcare workers (psychologists, physical therapists, others) applying curiosity building activity curriculum, could provide the culture for the described situation. Previous curriculum, such as the Montessori education method, has already been developed and need only be adapted for geriatric activities by healthcare professionals. Simply put: build curiosity skills for both groups instead of hedonism for geriatrics and self-esteem for preschoolers. All activities would need to be thoughtfully constructed and guided by healthcare professionals with the goal of curiosity implementation in mind. 

For example, a physical therapist might organize a mixed basketball game of geriatrics and preschoolers with new rules.  Each person has an enclosed pouch for the ball and the idea is to hide the ball in the pouches. Secretly, players hand the ball off to team members who hide it in their pouch until someone gets near enough to the goal to reveal the ball and throw it in a low basket. Everyone is doing fakes and curiously trying to figure out where the ball is. The geriatrics are “coached” by the healthcare professional to model patience or maybe good sportsmanship for that one game. Any player can learn the score…if they ask. The entirety promotes curiosity through inter-generational play. 

Healthcare professionals posses graduate level educations on the subjects of mental and physical needs, goal setting and activity building strategies to achieve solution resolution. Who is better and more prepared then they to equip the people of the future? With this curiosity generating strategy, America and humanity can glean the superior contributions of both groups and utilize the activity building assets of healthcare professionals more constructively. 




Ainley, M., Hidi, S., & Berndorff, D. (2002). Interest, learning and the psychological processes that mediate their relationship. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 545–561. 

Cupchik, G. C., & Gebotys, R. J. (1990). Interest and pleasure as dimensions of aesthetic experience. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 8, 1–14. 

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389. 

Jongman-Sereno, K. (2017). Personality and self-knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Psychology, E-1707. 

Justice, B. (2017). Bringing Montessori to America: SS McClure, Maria Montessori, and the Campaign to Publicize Montessori Education.  (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.Journal of American History, 104(2), 515–516. 

Kashdan, T. B., & Steger, M. F. (2007). Curiosity and pathways to well-being and meaning in life: Traits, states, and everyday behaviors. Motivation and Emotion, 31(3), 159-173. 

Lamprecht, R., & LeDoux, J. (2004). Structural plasticity and memory. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5(1), 45. 

Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2006). Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 361–375. 

Tomkins, S. S. (1962). Affect, imagery, consciousness: Vol. 1, The positive affects. New York: Springer. 

Turner, S. A. Jr., & Silvia, P. J. (2006). Must interesting things be pleasant? A test of competing appraisal structures. Emotion, 6, 670–674. 

Volkman, J. (2018). Neuroscience of learning: an introduction to mind, brain, health, and education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Psychology, E-1609. 



I'm Dr. Kim
Byrd-Rider, PT

In our Soul School at Firm Water Road, we are dedicated to helping people create healthy habits that can last a lifetime. Our program combines various modalities, including positive psychology, mystics, physics, and lifestyle medicine, to help our clients achieve optimal wellness. We specialize in Healthcare Workers, Military Members, School Teachers, and Students, but our holistic approach to wellness is beneficial for everyone. Let us help you achieve your health goals today.  Join us at or subscribe to the youtube channel

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