Some things you read hit you right between the eyes. One such piece was Eric Barker’s recent blog post on how to be happy in a crazy world. In a furrowed-brow world, everyone is looking for the magic elixir of joy. We all have it; we don’t know it.
For those who are not regular readers of Barker’s, he takes the research approach to many things. His specialty is to distill dense scientific studies into something understandable.
In the happiness post, he listed three things that promote personal happiness.
- Have good relationships so where you do not feel lonely. Join groups.
- Do things for you, not others. Don’t do everything for money, fame, or profit. Barker questions our reliance on social media for being an avenue for us to find our self-esteem from likes. (I plead guilty.)
- Get outside in the sun and fresh air.
As I read the post, I thought about when most people are happiest. It was not when they got the promotion (along with the increasing hours) or the degree (which always elicits the question of “what now?”).
For many adults, their “worry lines” define their lives rather than their “laugh lines.” Life is too important for us to pay attention to things of a child.
What Was the Happiest Time of Your Life?
Most people are happiest in childhood. They have no cares. They pay no bills. Their most significant stress is a teacher holding a test in hand.
For me, that resonates.
When I read this piece, I thought about my childhood. I had neighborhood friends. We would ride bikes together, discover together, and play together. We went outside. We played football in Dean Johnson’s front yard. We played basketball at a pole and hoop put up next to Jimmy Dixon’s house. We played baseball in our yard. We explored the arroyo behind our house. (Alas, progress in Santa Fe, NM has paved over the arroyo.) There was a rusted, abandoned car that became quite a fort for elementary school boys. We did all this for fun. We were not going to write a book about it, or post pictures on Facebook to get likes. We did it because we loved it.
So what happened on the journey to adulthood? Where did we get off of the happiness path?
Think about the phrase asked every kid, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” It is a question brimming with expectations, many of them not related to being “happy” or “content.”
In fact, most of those expectations brim with coming discontentment and incompleteness. Who has time to be happy when you have to be successful?
For most adults, happiness is around the next corner. It arrives with a new degree, a household of children, the planned vacation, the promotion, etc.
We never take steps to get back to the feelings of childhood.
Lately, I’ve been exploring that in my own life. I have no answers but only observations. (It also helps to get older. Your eyes don’t work as well, but your insight becomes keener.)
Returning to Childlike Joy
While Tom Hanks in the movie Big went back to a childlike state, that’s the movie magic. We cannot put a coin in an arcade slot and find the joy of childhood again.
Some things should make a home in everyone’s life.
Keep Good Friends. Many have acquaintances and even friends. Some friends are different. They are there when you hurt and listen to you whine. To them, you reveal your secrets and struggles. They care.
Less than half of Americans can say they have close friends. (The number is increasingly small for males.) That’s not only sad but is an indicator of lessened longevity as well.
How do you make good friends? There’s no chemistry, but a friend is someone who cares for another. Start there. Begin helping others. Listen to them. Share with them. (Vulnerability and transparency rate high on the friendship meter.)
Those with friends find joy increase.
Do Things You Enjoy…Just for You. In an age of “side hustles” and internet businesses, our culture evaluates the worth of an activity by the income it produces.
A better question is “is it worth by the joy it produces?”
Find things that excite and fascinate you. Perhaps it’s reading. Sometimes, lay under the stars and enjoy the wonder. Take a class in something you’ve always thought about doing, but it was too time-consuming. (Currently, I am searching to get back into archery. It’s to for hunting but for the sheer joy of it, as I did as a boy).
When you find activities that excite you, they punch the joy button.
Go Outside. We have developed an “indoor” culture. Kids don’t play on swing sets but on Xboxes. No one seems to play touch football or anything not requiring a charging cable.
There’s something about fresh air and sunshine. Don’t take your phone. Take a walk and think, ponder, and reflect. It might give you the highest payoff of the day.
I cannot go back and relive childhood (although I am becoming more childish every day). I can go back and help others and do some things just for me.
And I always need to remind myself. Go outside and play.