My youngest daughter (J), who is 9 now, has always been one of my favourite muses and role models when it comes to getting the most out of life. She is, and always has been, a bundle of joy, energy and general zest for living. She has strong emotional awareness and empathy, loves to learn and throws herself 100% into whatever she does. She is also, because of her straightforward view of life unhampered by the baggage that so many of us adults carry, a source of great wisdom – her advice is often worth listening to.
So this morning, after walking her to school, listening to her bright chatter and watching her delightedly greet her friends – happiness shining out of every pore, I was reflecting on what it is she does that enables her to so love life and be so wholehearted; what can we all learn from her (and others like her).
1. Take time to notice things afresh.
As adults we become over-familiar with people, places, things, experiences and no longer see or appreciate them for what they are. This is true whether it’s something wonderful, beautiful, uplifting, or something less good, a nuisance or irritation we just grow to tolerate.
As small examples, we are fortunate to live near York, a truly beautiful and historic city, but I’m not sure I properly appreciated it until we had a holiday to Florence. On returning to York I suddenly saw it through fresh eyes, and now I’m often noticing some incredible building or aspect I just hadn’t really registered before.
And the other way, when we moved into our present house 11 years ago, much as we loved it there were still lots of little, niggling things that we wanted to change, like there’s no light in the cloakroom cupboard, or a doors that inconveniently open the wrong way. And of course, although we made many changes to the house in that initial burst of energy when you move somewhere new, then life happens, we get busy, fall into habits and routines, adapt around the ‘niggles’ and you stop consciously noticing.
We just accumulate ‘baggage’ and burdens which if we gave conscious attention to we could sort out and free ourselves of.
So notice afresh – appreciate and be grateful for what’s good; deal with what’s not.
2. Be curious, not judgemental.
I think this is a biggie for helping us to fall back in love with life. As we grow up we learn to make more and more generalisations and judgements and just accept them without question as being true.
If, instead of making snap decisions that something, or someone, is good or bad, right or wrong, this or that – taking things at a surface level, and instead spent a little more time being curious about what lies beneath, look for more balanced truth, we’d discover more tolerance, compassion, appreciation both for ourselves and others.
Children of course are great at this, to the irritation of parents (“But why?” she asked innocently. “It just IS” snapped her mother!)
3. Be fully present.
When my daughter does something, it’s all she’s doing. She’s fully present, in flow, giving it her whole attention. She doesn’t try to ‘multi-task’, she doesn’t pretend to be listening to me whilst she checks her emails. She doesn’t give something half-hearted attention.
Now yes, there are times when it means she’s oblivious and TOO caught up to notice what’s around her, but I think most of us have a long way to go in re-balancing our distraction before that’s a problem for us!
4. Embrace the longer journey to mastery.
Something I particularly admire in my youngest is she seems to have grasped that you can’t expect to be ‘awesome’ at everything straight away; that regular practice helps you get better, and that you can have lots of fun whilst you learn.
She applies this to her schoolwork, her music lessons (piano and cornet), playing Minecraft or Skylanders(!), Judo (she’s a bluebelt currently) or facts about animals. In fact, anything she puts her mind to. She thows herself in fully (point 3), and gets her ‘learning’ head on. Point 2 on curiosity really helps here too.
5. Acknowledge the negative, but focus on the positive.
J is a huge optimist. She knows that bad things can, and do happen, but she doesn’t dwell on them, ruminating moodily on the past, or worrying unnecessarily about the future.
No, instead she focuses on what makes her feel good rather than what makes her feel bad, because why would you want to feel bad, duh?
The same principle applies to when it comes to people too. No-one is all good, or all bad. Don’t be blind to what’s bad, but look for and focus on the best in people.
(Incidentally I wouldn’t want you to think that J is a complete angel, that I have the ‘perfect child’ – but she’s definitely WAY more good than bad!)
6. Help other people.
My daughter loves to make other people feel better, she’s the family clown. But she also likes to genuinely help out too. She knows, even at the age of 9, that helping other people feels good, and helps you to keep perspective on your own life.
That’s partly why she’s so excited she’s going to be sharing a room for a month this June with a little Belarusian girl from an area contaminated by the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
7. Give your body what it needs.
My daughter is very active (makes me tired just thinking about all the things she does). She eats a good diet and fortunately loves her fruit and veg. Breakfast is her favourite meal. She sleeps like a log and wakes up fresh and bright. She likes to be outside in the fresh air. She doesn’t worry about what she looks like, she doesn’t judge her body, she just uses it in the way it’s intended to be used. Being loving to the body you’re in will help you love life!
None of this is rocket science. Happiness and zest for life is not complicated, difficult or unachievable.
It’s only as adults we add on all this unnecessary ‘stuff’, the accumulated baggage of life that holds us down.
Underneath it’s simple, straightforward and natural – child’s play!