Back to Childhood
When I was about 8 years old, my mom gave me permission to take a walk with one restriction: I could not cross the street. Still, she seemed upset when my Aunt Susan called to let her know that I was at her house. When I got on the phone, I remember saying clearly, “Mom, I did not cross the street. I stayed on the grass all the way up to Aunt Susan’s house.” I was speaking the truth. I walked down our street through the grass of other people’s lawns the long way round, so I would be positioned on the grass of a big hill that led to my Aunt Susan’s house. Yes, yes, the big hill was next to a busy intersection.
My Aunt Susan was happy to see me, and of course a little surprised by how an 8 year old could travel on foot to his aunt’s house without a particular plan in mind or a person to escort him, but that was just it. I had a plan in mind. I planned to see my Aunt Susan. Fearing that I would be disappointed by the news that my cousins would not be around for the day, she got this information to me as quickly as possible, and frowned to mirror what she was sure would be sadness on my part. I remember wondering if I needed to be coming to see my cousins, but if you know me, then you know I can’t lie. I tried once when I was five. My mother laughed, told me that I was a terrible liar, and that I was to never lie again. So, I told my Aunt Susan the truth that I came to her house to see her. We had a great day filled with laughs, hugs, and an impromptu wrestling match with my much older cousin, Tony. She pinned me at least 15 times. As a grown man, I still think fondly on that day. Living it up by simply spending time with the people I love most.
As adults, we tend to heed the wisdom we have developed as adults, and devalue the wisdom that we accrued as children. This is a mistake. Most adult knowledge is based on the adherence to social rules, mores, and contracts. Knowledge gained in childhood has to do with what fills your heart, your mind, and your soul. As children, we learned what simple things, on their own, provided pure, unadulterated well-being. It is hard to feel satisfied by fulfilling social contracts all day. We need to integrate the truths we learned as children to unlock our full potential to experience happiness and joy. Let’s look at 4 of these truths.
FOUR TRUTHS OF CHILDHOOD
Truth 1: The most important thing is doing what you love with the people you love.
As adults, we do this strange thing of treating hanging out like casual meetings. You think of people with similar goals to your own. You pick an activity that you all might enjoy (read: kind of enjoy), and then you get together to somewhat focus on this activity, while networking a little bit. This would be akin to playing with children from another family your parents swear are a lot of fun, but you know are not, so you complain instead. It is no wonder that our adult selves need time to decompress after these get togethers with alcohol, the internet, or television.
Perhaps, some of these meetings are necessary. We do have to be able to provide for our families, and most people need an excuse to leave their houses. However, when these unofficial work dates begin to dominate your life, you might see a decline in well-being. Trust your inner child. Pick people with whom you really love to spend time. Make them a priority, and then pick something that is purely fun. Want to know if it works? See how many drinks you have or time you spend on the internet/watching television when you return home from one of these outings, and compare these results to those that follow your unofficial business outings.
Truth 2: The places you go have far less to do with your happiness than the people you are with.
Becoming an adult seems to come with the world’s largest bucket list, and the pressure to accomplish much of this list to be received favorably by friends, colleagues, and strangers. We share pictures, knick-knacks, and stories, which our audiences reduce to oo’s and ah’s. Some even respond by sharing similar stories. Our child selves think this is ridiculous. When asked about your day as a child, you place the primary emphasis on the person you were with, and the excitement in your voice is a barometer for the quality of the hang. I hung out with Jimmy, and we played video games! It was awesome! There is no way you would describe the décor in Jimmy’s basement or apologize for not having travelled to a more socially valued site for this time spent.
Our child selves do not spend an exorbitant amount of time telling you things you could see in a documentary like how nice the people are in Australia, which seems impersonal and kind of boring. Spending time with people you love is innately rewarding. It drives up oxytocin levels, and allows your body to bask in the sweet goodness of homeostasis or balanced well-being. It makes us feel grounded, and time passes effortlessly. This time strengthens our bodies and our relationships with positive supports, which is way better than a clay rendering of the Tower of Pisa no matter how life like it seems.
Truth 3: Too many rules kill the imagination, and imagination rules.
Perhaps to match how organized our daily lives are, we come up with a similar amount of rules for spending time with others outside of work. We will meet at this place, at this time, wearing this attire, for this amount of time. We will be expected to interact in this way, followed by polite goodbyes. This reminds me of a suit fitting. Try not to move so much, so you won’t get pricked by the needle. I love a well-made suit, but I am not keen on the suit fitting process. Don’t get me started about the needle. I do not have needle phobia, but I do have getting pricked by a needle that indiscriminantly sews other people’s clothes phobia.
When I came into adulthood, and found myself with lots of adult responsibilities (ie; work, bills, taxes, etc.), I told my Uncle Jerry that I was ready to kill my inner child, and become a man. He looked at me very seriously, and made me promise that I would never do that. He said that our inner child is the person most capable of finding our joy. He was so right. Find a place to go to with friends that gives you enough structure to feel safe, but also gives your imagination permission to run wild. Your imagination lives in the world of hopes and dreams, and while responsibility and structure help maintain our lives, hopes and dreams give us the will to live.
Truth 4: No matter how bad the day is, there is always something you can do to feel better.
As children, bad things happened to us or we caused bad things, and we would become upset. Sometimes, we would be upset for a long time, but we were almost never incapable of feeling better. Our secret was that we wanted the opportunity to experience the good things that might come next, and we appreciated the little things: a hug from mom, a chocolate chip cookie, Swedish fish, our favorite television show, time with friends, a favorite blanket. These things still exist, and if you let them, they will be more than enough.
Because we fear failure, when suffering occurs, we often magnify it to understand it as completely as possible in order to neutralize or avoid it. We are also mostly overworked, and in need of some kind of a break, which suffering often derails. Notice suffering when it arises. Name it. Allow it to pass. Then do something simple that produces pure well being, and let that be enough for the moment.
In life, because we are faced with so many challenges as adults, it becomes really difficult to feel like you are doing enough. Your best never seems good enough, so in the hopes of finding greater ease we compare ourselves to others as a form of measurement. If we are doing more than others, we feel like we are doing more than enough. If we are doing less than others, we feel like we are not doing enough. The common denominator in this process is “doing,” which loosely translates as working.
You will never feel like you are doing enough. Accept this truth, and release yourself from the suffering and work that comes with comparison. Outline your goals and responsibilities, and make time for them. When this time has elapsed, make time for activities that are driven by the four previously mentioned truths. Do what you love with the people you love. Make spending time with the people you love most the priority. Find activities with just enough structure to feel safe, and let your imagination run wild. No matter how bad your day is let this suffering pass, and pick something simple that just brings well-being to feel better.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion . Day 72. In the Books.