The Simple Secret to Happiness!
Relive Your Childhood
As an adult, I've experienced deep, rich, sometimes even complex pleasures. I've fallen in love and fallen into long, lively conversations with quick and intelligent friends. I've cradled babies, comforted toddlers, and received massive, satisfying hugs from my growing children. I've drunk fine wines and savored gourmet dishes in elegant restaurants. Believe me, it all feels mighty good. But when it comes to experiencing true joy, well, nothing beats doing Superman.
Here's how it works. My husband lies on his back in bed. I stand in front of him and, with his feet positioned just so on my belly, he lifts me up in the air with his legs. If we get the balance right, I can let go of his hands, put my arms out ahead of me and turn my head from side to side, just like George Reeves in the opening of the old TV show. It feels ridiculous, and ridiculously fun, and it never, ever fails to get me giggling like an 8-year-old.
My Superman moments are pure joy, the kind of joy children feel all the time and adults experience only too rarely. Tap any adult you know, no matter how erudite, and watch her eyes sparkle as she tells you what made her giddy as a kid: sledding, riding bikes until dusk, digging into a full bowl of Halloween candy. My friend Gail, a smart and accomplished editor and mother of two, certainly enjoys shopping and working and socializing and arranging holiday meals for her large extended family. But she revels in outdoor showers. "My grandparents had a beach house, and I spent my childhood washing off the saltwater and sand in an outdoor shower," she says. "Now, when we rent a house at the beach, I insist that it have one. Nothing brings me back to childhood more than showering outside and then drip-drying in my robe on the grass."
There's no denying that the education, experience, and proper ID required for grown-up pleasures are great perks of adulthood, but the joys of childhood -- like alfresco showers -- are incomparably sweet. One reason is the nostalgia for a time that was free of responsibility and full of discovery. "Childhood was a time of firsts," says Edward Hallowell, MD, a psychiatrist in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness (Ballantine, 2003). Think back: You might remember the first time you jumped off the high board at the pool; the sleepy summer afternoons you spent mastering the art of gliding on your bike without touching the handlebars; or the days at the ocean when your mother, as mine did, held you in her arms as the incoming waves jostled you up and down.
Such joys can be even greater when experienced as an adult, both because they're so rare and because, unlike children, we're aware of how fleeting they are. "Reliving childhood joys is a step deeper than experiencing them for the first time; you have to recapture and re-create something," says Dr. Hallowell. "It can be bittersweet -- joy mixed with sadness." Kathy Franklin, a mom and a vice president at Disney Worldwide Outreach in Burbank, California, agrees. "I know from experience, for instance, that wanting to dress up like a princess morphs quickly into wanting to wear exactly the 'right' clothes to fit in with the cool kids," she says.
The chief advantage childhood joys have over the adult variety is that they tend to be primal -- they bypass the brain and go straight to the heart, the taste buds, or the funny bone. They're the ultimate in living in the moment. When I enjoy that fine meal, a good part of the experience is intellectual. I'm thinking, What is that herb I'm tasting in the soup? or, The lamb is fabulous, but is it $29.95 worth of fabulous? But when I stick my spoon into a jar of Marshmallow Fluff, I don't think a thing except, Mmmm! Ditto for running: When I go for a jog (gotta work off the lamb and Fluff somehow), I listen to news radio on my headset, think about my miles, think about my time, think think think. But when I race my son, or try to steal a soccer ball from my daughter, I don't think at all. I just laugh.