Not intending to downplay the words of wisdom my parents have shared with me over the years, but I recently realized that all you have to do is study a child to learn everything you’ll need to know about how to live. Truly live, that is.
I’m not talking about elements of survival like how to get your own food, but more about how to be happy.
Of course, when you’re a child the last thing you’re going to do is intentionally study one of your colleagues to learn a thing or two. The whole center of the universe thing can get in the way of that and is, perhaps, the one downside to my theory.
But before we chuck it altogether, consider what follows.
As an adult, I have been reminded about some of the essential ingredients to living a happy, fulfilled, compassionate life.
Here are just some of the things we can learn from kids:
The Essence of Play
Anything is Possible
How to Live Creatively
“Ever since happiness heard your name,
it’s been running through the streets trying to find you.” -Hafiz
I’m not going to pretend to know the “key” to happiness, but I have a feeling there’s really more than one. I also have a feeling that each of the above traits might just be a key.
Unbridled Joy: Watch children doing something they love and it’s difficult to not be struck by the unfettered exuberance. They don’t care who knows how excited they are. They’re fully immersed in that moment.
Feet flailing, that’s how my niece used to be as an infant. As if she were trying to sprint a 40-yard dash while on her back, her feet kicking the floor, her legs moving so fast, like The Road Runner’s legs, just this blur of pure elation.
Love: I’m reminded each time I visit my goddaughter and her little sister just how innately loving children are.
I absolutely adore the fact that they usually come to me and give me a big hug whenever I’m there. But it’s the impetus behind that act, the reason they want to be picked up and squeezed, that is telling.
Sure, the view from UP is pretty good and quite different from what they’re used to, but the reason they say, “uppy,” even as they get older, is because they know the value of face-to-face, nose-to-nose, cheek-to-cheek proximity.
Spend a few minutes around a child who loves you and, when you’re wrapped up in one of those hugs, notice how energized you feel and refreshed. As if there might just be some wonderful exchange of energy in that gesture.
Some wonderful exchange of the self.
That’s why being in touch with your true self is so important as we get older.
Kindness: Despite the inherent focus on the self, children also possess a profound ability to demonstrate kindness. For kindness sake!
That’s not to say, I wouldn’t offer to massage my grandma’s aching shoulders when she dangled a delicious fresh-baked goodie as incentive. But, truth is, I’d have done it simply because she asked.
Kids seem to sense when others are in pain – physical or emotional – and they also tend to offer the most genuine form of kindness they know. A hand on the shoulder, a hug, some simple, small act that lets us know we’re not alone.
The Essence of Play: I think these quotes reveal the importance of this lost art.
“The true object of all human life is play. “- G. K. Chesterton
“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.” – Heraclitus
“If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.” – Jean Piaget
“It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” – D.W. Winnicott
Play is not some frivolous use of time.
It’s essential to creativity and to staying connected with your true self. It’s also one of the things we’re conditioned to view as childish, rather than as a thing that nourishes the child inside each of us and keeps us young.
Anything is Possible: I’ve been spending a lot of time with Picture Books lately. Reading them (since I never did as a boy) as research because I have about 15 picture book story ideas wanting to be told.
As remarkable as many of the images are (and I’m talking truly wonderful art), the thing that blows me away time and again is how these books reinforce the concept that anything is possible.
That’s one thing we tend to unlearn the more involved we get with reality. Trouble is, the more we give up on that belief, the less things become possible.
How to Live Creatively: Ever been king or queen of a castle (without needing a castle)? Ever go on a magical Journey without ever leaving home? Ever been a superhero (without possessing any real super powers)?
I used to think I could fly. Sure, that might have been a bit delusional if, say, I had tried to fly from the roof of the school after I used to climb the brick wall and hide. And after meeting me you might wonder if I did that once or twice. I assure you I didn’t. But I did jump from the picnic table in the back yard, swooping in at the last moment to save the day.
And I did spend hours each day by myself beneath the massive lilac bush in the side yard (resulting in several hospital stays, being allergic and all), and in my bedroom closet, and in a dozen other secret, special places, with a handful of toys, or just my hands, and an ability to transcend worlds.
Henri Matisse said that “creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.”
Flexible, persistent, independent . . . those sound like traits that could be quite useful when dealing with any number of life’s challenges.
If you get a chance, watch a child and see what you might learn.
Now, that doesn’t mean peek in the neighbor’s windows or lurk around the food court at the mall. But spend a little time with children you know (family or friends) and see what you learn.
You might just be surprised at how much younger and happier you feel just doing a few of those things yourself. If you’re a writer, like me, you might also remember to put a little of that kid-magic and wonder into your stories.
Now, if they just put monkey bars in conference rooms, we’d be on the right track.
Keep after it, y’all!