In with the old, out with the new…..
The more I work with adults the more I learn that each and every one of us, at some point in our lives, has been the exact person that we are currently striving to be. Think about how life’s lessons have taught us to respond to the world—much differently than you responded as a child, no?
As a three year old you had NO fears; life was exciting, you knew exactly what you wanted and you went for it. You didn’t worry about what people thought of you or how fat/thin/short/tall you were. You were happy with you and with life.
Part of that happiness came from the ability to have a crystal-clear focus on what was going to make you happy right at that moment. It might have been something as simple as peanut butter crackers or it may have been comfort from grandma’s hug; regardless of the object of your focus, you honed in on exactly what you wanted and (probably) didn’t stop until you got it. There was no fear of rejection—even though you’d been rejected or told ‘no’ before you simply let it roll off your back and kept going; there were no feelings of inadequacy—have you ever known a three year old to question whether or not they deserve their mother’s undivided attention?
As we grow up, and our focus starts to splinter off into various directions (family, school, friends, faith, the pursuit of love, work, etc), we necessarily lose that laser-like focus and allow ourselves to start counting the parts of our life rather than the whole of life. Think about that—if your work life is going gangbusters and you’re as successful as you’d ever dreamed, but your home life has crumbled from lack of attention, how happy is your life? Can you feel true happiness as an adult if the various parts of your life are not in harmony?
In addition to focus, children tend to be happy because they simply can’t fathom another reality; they haven’t yet learned how to be disappointed, unhappy, surly or embarrassed. Their reality is truly their reality—not the reality of what others may or may not think. Only as we grow up (i.e., observe and internalize the reactions of others, take on ‘grown-up’ responsibilities of reporting to a boss/spouse/counselor, etc) do we begin to see our lives as something other than happy. But does the core really ever go away? If, as adults, we could strip away the layers of ‘should’, ‘I can’t’, ‘I’m afraid’, ‘I’m embarrassed’; could we get back to that core of when just being ourselves was enough to be happy? Surely it doesn’t go away; it simply disappears under this pile of ‘stuff’ that we affectionately refer to as life.
Big question time: how, exactly, do we strip that away yet continue to function as adults? After all, we can’t quit our jobs, stop paying our mortgages, or just play on the slide ALL day, can we? While ‘outside reality’ may play a huge role in our everyday lives, there are actions we can take to connect with our core child.
• Breathe. Not just the in and out that keeps us going, but the deep, nourishing breaths that calm and rejuvenate. Proper deep breathing also reduces stress, clears the mind and allows us to focus.
• Meditate. Studies have shown that practicing meditation not only has great effects on happiness and positive feelings, but also helps relax us, releases pent up stress, and makes us feel more at peace.
• Journal. Recording your thoughts and feelings can be reassuring and can help you refocus on what you really do think and feel. Even though the words may never be read by anyone other than you, the mere act of writing it all down on paper is a cathartic experience that clears the head and opens the heart to allow more of whatever you need at that particular place and time to enter. Try stream of consciousness writing—not worrying about proper spelling, grammar or punctuation, just write whatever comes into your mind at the moment and continue those thoughts for about twenty minutes. You might start off talking about the delicious dinner you had or that you are annoyed with your son’s Algebra grade, but before you know it you’ll be writing about things that are meaningful and important to YOU.
• Have fun. Whatever form that takes for you—an afternoon trip to the park for a quick push on the swings, ice cream for dinner or a video game marathon on a Saturday morning. Enjoying an activity for the pure pleasure of it—with no investment in the outcome—allows you to really feel and enjoy the moment.
If you’ve noticed, each and every one of these suggestions has one thing in common; they are simply ways for you to concentrate on yourself. Taking the time to figure out what makes you happy and then acting on those thoughts and feelings takes the courage to forget—if even for a moment—what everyone else wants and take care of you.