Lessons in Joy - What My Grandkids Taught Me
We learn from many sources in our lives - from parents, from teachers, from textbooks, from hard knocks, from those around us. But I never expected to learn some of my most valuable lessons from the least likely of teachers - from my own baby grandchildren.
These little ones don't need a prescription or years of therapy to be happy. They just seem to come with it. They radiate it, from the center of their beings. Now, mind you, they're not perfect creatures. They cry. They poop. They tantrum. They make messes, day after day after day. They do all those normal annoying things that all little kids do.
But I will always be grateful for the life-changing example provided to me by these little ones - the transformative lessons they have provided, from their earliest days in this world.
A Bit of Bumper Sticker Wisdom
So often, my counseling clients bring me pictures of themselves from those early years - those precious preschool moments. They look at the open eyes and radiant smiles of their own earliest selves, and ask, "What happened to that happy little child I once was?"
At one point in my own life, when I felt weighed down by the leftover impact of some challenging experiences in my past, I was cheered by an inspiring bumper sticker that declared:
"It's never too late to have a happy childhood!"
That bumper-sticker wisdom brought me some immediate hope. Even if I was struggling today - or even if I'd struggled for a very long time - it wasn't too late to learn the joyful lessons of a happy childhood.
Over time, as I looked around for teachers in that process, I found the greatest mentoring in the most unexpected of places.
I Thought I Was Doing Her a Favor
Like many first-time moms, my daughter was a conscientious, self-sacrificing young mother, intent on doing everything right. Day and night, she focused on the needs of her firstborn baby - my first grandchild.
I thought I was doing her a favor, a few months after my grandson's birth, when I offered to take him for a walk in our local nature park, to give her a short and needed break. She was tired, and hadn't had much time to herself during those long sleepless months of new motherhood. So, a little reluctant, she let him go with me, so she could get a little needed rest.
I will always be grateful for that transformative, hour-long experience.
Seeing the World Through Fresh Baby Eyes
As I took Isaac that day into that wilderness retreat, my heart was sad and heavy. Our nation was in the midst of the most poisonously negative, contentious presidential campaign I had ever experienced. Each candidate viciously sought the destruction and discrediting of the other. Social media was filled daily with contentious, accusatory posts - not just attacking the candidates, but also anyone daring to support them. Family relationships were getting ripped apart on either side of that vast political divide. It seemed the very fabric of our nation was being split apart, thread by thread.
I was worried and concerned - discouraged and heartsick. I couldn't see a productive national future under the direction of either of these negative individuals. The national wellbeing felt very personal to me that day. How could we live and thrive together as a nation, in the midst of such savage infighting and contention?
But that day, walking through that wilderness retreat with little Isaac in my arms, I saw something very different than those depressing media images had shown me. Isaac was still too little to say even a single word But as his baby eyes looked around that day at that surrounding wilderness, those eyes were filled with appreciative wonder and radiant gladness. That beautiful tree, with its flowering blossoms, right in front of us. Those gorgeous blooms covering and coloring the ground. That magnificent background of brilliant blue sky and puffy white clouds overhead, drenched in golden sunlight. Isaac's tiny, appreciative eyes saw it all, and his preverbal baby voice cooed and babbled and giggled its heartfelt wonder and appreciation.
Enjoying the Beauty That Surrounds Us Daily
I watched his joy, and was pulled into the infectious gaiety of his laughter. He didn't see a contentious, scary, threatening world. He saw a beautiful, magnificent place of joy and infinite wonder. And through his baby eyes, I saw all over again the immense glory of the world I live in every day - but often forget to see, in the midst of photographed images broadcasted electronically on a glass screen.
For the first time I realized - though the dark and difficult elements of life are real - so are the uplifting ones - the joyful ones - the beautiful ones. And every day, like my little grandson, I can intentionally choose to take joy in the abundance of good things, rather than get distracted by all the negative.
That was the first of the life-changing lessons on joy I was given by my grandson. But it was certainly not the last.
Drinking in The Simple Joys of Life
Isaac is almost 3 years old now, and has now been joined by his baby sister, Leah. She is softer and sweeter than he was as a baby. But this tiny dynamic duo continues daily to teach me powerful lessons on joy - innate joy, that requires no masters degree, no counseling, and certainly no chemical product to experience. Here's just a few things I've learned from watching and learning from my tiny grandchildren:
- Every day, enjoy the good in the world. This is the most overriding lesson I have experienced from watching them - to daily enjoy the simple joys of life - taking in nourishment, moving in one's own physical body, the comforting physical contact of another human being, vocalizing heartfelt feelings.
- The ability to move around in one's physical body brings great joy. This is a joy so native to us that we literally do it even from the womb. But it is easy to forget, in a world of hours-long sitting for work and entertainment. Our bodies were designed to MOVE - and there is great joy in doing so.
- Real people bring the greatest joy. Plastic toys can be a fun temporary distraction, moving electronic images can divert attention for a time. But real joy is to be found in eyeball-to-eyeball, heart-to-heart, face-to-face interaction with another actual human being.
- Every day, we can learn and experience something new. The process of early childhood is the process of continuously learning new information and gaining important new skills. Happily, that learning process can be continued through life, as a source of continuing growth, development, and joy throughout our entire lifetimes.
- Feeling genuine feelings is the best way to get through them. Children are literally born into this world with the innate ability to experience and express heartfelt feelings - terror, pain, cold, hunger, comfort, appreciation, joy. Over time, we often learn to stuff down and mask our feelings - through addictions and prescriptions, through overwork and overshopping, through denial, and through media distractions of ever-increasing variety. But we can only experience real joy if we are able to experience real feelings. Being open to feeling what we actually feel, when we actually feel it, is an innate ability that is born with is - that may have been pushed down for a time - but that with intentional practice we can learn powerfully to restore. The feelings we let ourselves feel are the foundation of genuine joy and healing.
These innate joys, visbble in very young children, are our natural legacy as human beings. They are available every day, free of charge. We can learn or relearn to activate these innate joys. We can decide to tune into the positive hopeful side of things, rather than focus on the negative elements of life.
Even if we came from difficult childhood experiences, truly: "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." Tuning into these simple joys is a powerful way to start builidng - or rebuiling - that happiness today.
-- Carrie M. Wrigley, LCSW
Counselor, Speaker, Performer, and Author of
Your Happiness Toolkit: 16 Strategies for Overcoming Depression, and Building a Joyful, Fulfilling Life
> For more complete Information on this topic, see the book, Section 2: "Inborn Traits:"
Tool #1: ACTION - Tool #2: FEELING - Tool #3: POSITIVITY - Tool #4: LEARNING