As children, we saw the world through the lens of joy, openness and curiosity. Sadly, many of us tend to lose this perspective as we grow up and face the challenges of adult life. The good news is that we can recapture the glory of our childhood by cultivating these five traits in us. (Estimated reading time: 6 minutes)
“The great man is he who does not lose his childlike heart.”— Mencius
Recently, I had the pleasure of watching Disney’s Christopher Robin. It’s a moving film that tells the story of a middle-aged man who reunites with his childhood friend, Winnie the Pooh and all his companions from The Hundred Acre Woods. His friends help him rekindle his enthusiasm for life and remind him what’s most important.
On first meeting Christopher, Pooh could sense that he was not happy. Robin was a far cry from the little boy who used to accompany Pooh on their fun-filled adventures in the forest. He was now a fully-grown man, a workaholic, burdened by the demands of his job. His frequent absence from home caused tension with his wife and daughter who longed for his presence.
Pooh gently brings this issue to light during a conversation at a train station after Robin refuses to retrieve Pooh’s lost balloon that is stuck in a window of the train they boarded:
Pooh looks at Christopher Robin and innocently asks, “do you always carry that thing with you?”
Robin replies, “what, my briefcase?”
Pooh smiles innocently, “yes, is it more important than a balloon?”
He curtly pouts, “of course it is more important than a balloon.”
This scene almost moved me to tears (one amongst many) because it touches on an important life lesson. The briefcase symbolizes our society’s collective obsession with work, achievement, and material success.
Our high-intensity work culture costs us our childlike joy of simply being in the moment. The balloon that Pooh holds onto symbolizes youthful simplicity and a love for play – something we tend to forget as adults.
It’s not easy to hold onto that balloon. Most of us let go of it, allowing it to float out of reach as we plow through our growing pains, like disappointment, heartbreak, failure, betrayal, and dealing with our limitations. When we’re unable to process these challenges we develop a cynical and bitter perspective on life.
As much as we fantasize about reliving those carefree childhood days, we can’t go back. What we can do is recapture the essence of our childhood by cultivating certain traits within ourselves.
As children, we often saw adult lives as simple, so it’s up to us to recapture that simplicity in any way we can. It’s useful to step away from our busy lives and live free from complication, if only for a short while.
Allow yourself to laze around in bed on the weekend, play fetch with your dog, spend a day at a retro arcade, or bake a cake like you did with a parent or grandparent when you were little. I’ve listed more ideas on connecting with your inner child in this post.
But, being childlike is to much than occasionally indulging in fun activities. It’s a mindset that we can develop, that’s characterized by qualities such as imagination, wonder, creativity, hope, curiosity, and play.
The beauty of nurturing this mindset is that you don’t have to abandon your grown-up sensibilities in favor of it. You can be a responsible adult, prospering in your professional life and relationships, and still be childlike.
A youthful outlook makes your journey smoother and more enjoyable. You have the power to see the world as one big playground, filled with adventures and things for you to discover and relish, as opposed to seeing it as a minefield riddled with obstacles, strife, and scarcity. All you need to do is choose to shift your outlook and stick with it.
The next time you find yourself surrounded by children, observe them. Remember what it was like when you were their age before you were indoctrinated by the rules and protocols of society and the institutions that stripped away your childishness to make you fit into the system.
The good news is that you can reconnect with that lost part of you by cultivating these five childlike qualities:
1. You stop taking life so seriously: There certainly are times when we’re required to be serious, but most of the time we can easily avoid being dragged down by the heaviness of life. Kids achieve this by living in the moment and letting go of grudges, hurts, and complications. If we can release our emotional baggage and avoid the tendency to criticize, complain, and catastrophize, we open our heartspace to more joy and pleasure. For example, if someone was rude to you at a coffee shop, instead of getting angry at them, you can shrug it off because you don’t want to allow one person’s misplaced attitude to ruin the beauty of your day.
2. Fun, laughter and play are prioritized: Given our busy lifestyles, many of us have put fun, play, and laughter on the backburner. Perhaps we restrict our indulgences to only a couple of hours on the weekend, during vacations, or maybe even until we retire. But, if we don’t make time to enjoy our lives and have fun, we will droop and wither like a plucked flower. That’s why we need to make time for recreational activities that light us up in our schedule. If you miss playing basketball, join a sports team in your neighborhood. If you like board games, join a games Meetup group. Love dancing? Sign up for dancing class!
3. Every day becomes an adventure: When children wake up in the morning they jump out of bed bursting with excitement, anticipating glorious adventures in the day ahead. They wonder what they’re going to learn and discover, what stimulating and interesting challenges they’ll face, and the type of friends that they’ll meet along the way. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could all wake up with the same zest for life?
Even if you have a predictable routine, you can inject spontaneity into your day by trying new things and changing things up a little. This will shift your energy from a zombie-like state, simply going through the motions to pass the time, to someone with a passion for life and positive anticipation for what lies ahead.
4. You see more possibilities than limitations: When we shed the layers of cynicism and doubt that typically infiltrate the adult mind, opportunities for expansion and growth become more apparent to us. Like dark clouds that dissipate after a storm, the sun comes out to illuminate the options that were initially hidden. When we were children, we believed that we could be anything that our hearts desired – astronaut, athlete, pilot, movie star, etc. But as we grew up, we began to lose sight of our abundant potential. We may have developed limiting beliefs and allowed other people and circumstances to dictate that course of our lives. Reconnecting with our childlike sensibilities will reveal that we have more possibilities ahead of us than we ever imagined.
5. The world becomes a magical place: Do you remember the last time that you felt truly amazed? A time when your jaw dropped, and you said, “wow!”? Kids do this often because they look at everything through the eyes of wonder. The newness of everything that they witness fascinates them. They can see magic in even the simplest object. Of course, as adults, we can’t erase our memories, but we can temporarily suspend our stream of thoughts and engage with life from a neutral and non-judgmental place. Get out into nature and watch beautiful sunsets, or look up at the starry sky. Put your phone on silent mode and visit a museum, art gallery, movie or show, and lose yourself in the artistic beauty.
If you ever find yourself reminiscing about the simpler times of your childhood, just remember those sentiments are always available to you through your imagination. Like the mystical tree door that Christopher Robin enters to be with Winnie the Pooh in The Hundred Acre Wood, it’s a portal will always stay open for you to enter.
All my best on your journey,
Question: Do you believe that being childlike makes growing up easier? How has this outlook benefited you?
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