When I was little, I was seemingly always happy. I distinctly remember adults asking me, “how are you happy all the time?” And my answer was simple, I would respond “Well, I just decide to be happy instead of sad, and then I’m happy!”
Is it really that simple? Where did we get lost?
Adult me would tell little kid me that I’m just being an idealist and then grumble that I need to get my books ready for tax season or something. “You just haven’t experienced enough yet” I might say to me, “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time to become miserable, you’re young.” Little Danny would most definitely be confused what happened to future him, and might counter-argue “Can’t you see how easy it is? There is a lot to be happy about! You can run and shout and jump up and down and other stuff too!” Eventually, the older self and the younger self would agree to disagree and go separate ways. Adult Danny would head back to his office, while little Danny preps his 3 wheel scooter to ride down a tube slide and inevitability scrape his knees.
Now I like to think the current me kept that crazy spirt; I think there’s a good chance I did. Adult Danny is handy for making sure the mortgage gets paid, but I don’t think he’s the one in control. As terrifying as it is, the over-idealistic risk-taker riding the scooter might be driving the ship. And I think I found the key reason for that.
Adults are really good at working for their lives. We make to-do lists and systematically check off each item to keep the mechanisms running our lives well maintained. This is important for stability, and by all means not a bad thing. Go to work, check. Make money, check. Pay bills, check. But what do you get when your mind is completely tied up in completing a list of ever-replenishing menial tasks? We lost something in the check marks and line items; I couldn’t put my finger on it but it made me miserable. That is until I dropped my “to do” journal, went outside, and let my mind be free.
Children are terrible at to do lists and holding responsibilities to keep their lives stable, and that’s okay. Children have something far more important to do; they have to work on their lives, instead of for their lives. They need to run, jump, build things and fall over to figure out who they are, and where they are going. Alas, we get older, and the life we built is the life we live. We gain responsibilities, and then dedicate all of our mental and physical resources to maintaining our responsibilities. You can run on that treadmill until the belt wears down and the motor dies, and no one is going to stop you. You’ll be stable, you’ll be successful, and you’ll be miserable. It’s okay, there’s time to stop.
My grandmother used to shout “I grew older, but I never grew up!” with here false teeth nearly falling out of her mouth. I would laugh, but now I think she was on to something. Stay young. Keep exploring new interests. Take risks. Start anew. Don’t get so caught up working for your life that you forget to work on it. Give your childish side the wheel, just don’t crash the car.