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Todd Kashdan has a deep appreciation of anxiety, which makes his engaging book “Curious?” unique among the comfort-promising volumes in the self-help section.

For most of us, anxiety is a decidedly unpleasant emotion — one we strive to avert, either by avoiding situations that provoke apprehension, latching onto false but comforting certainties, or (my personal favorite) numbing out via our addiction of choice. Pointing out anxiety’s usefulness is akin to putting in a good word for pain.

But of course, it’s not the anxiety itself that causes problems but those dysfunctional coping mechanisms. As the George Mason University psychologist [Todd Kashdan] notes, anxiety is in fact one-half of a quite useful yin-yang process. Rather than resist it, he argues, we should acknowledge its existence and turn up the volume on the other side of the equation: the impulse that pulls us toward challenge and exploration.

That is to say, we need to cultivate curiosity.

“Our curiosity and threat detection systems evolved together, and they function to ensure optimal decisions are made in an unpredictable, uncertain world,” he writes. “We are all motivated by the pull toward safety and seek to avoid danger, but we also possess a fundamental motivation to expand and grow as human beings.”

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Tom Jacobs
Miller-McCune

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