If our prime objective is happiness and we know that children seem to be naturally happy then it seems logical that we should try to figure out what we can learn about happiness from children.
One of the more important aspects of being human is curiosity and imagination. The industrial age of the 20th century operated in a way that essentially limited curiosity and imagination to something that can be done by children and not by the rest of us. The abilities that result from curiosity and imagination are inhibited in many adults as result of the emphasis that the industrial age put on logic, linear thinking and not challenging existing ideas and concepts. One of the questions that arises from this situation is, if children are being curious and imaginative in a totally uninhibited way then what can we learn from them?
Watching children play is like watching a human trying to figure out everything about how the world works by using the largest number of trial and error experiments that can fit into any given period of time. When a child tries something and it doesn’t work, the child doesn’t take the view that it failed and starts feeling ashamed and leaves the room. They simply try to do the same thing again. They learn from every attempt and then eventually move on to something else. The negative connotations associated with failing to make something work are totally nonexistent.
Another obvious difference between children and adults that can be seen by observing children is that, unless they are hungry, they are happy with what they have. They don’t spend their time planning to get more, they spend the time enjoying what they have now. After they’ve exhausted the obvious ways to enjoy what they have they use their imaginations to enjoy them in different ways.
Children are generally not thinking about the past or the future. In order for a human to become self dependent it will eventually learn to think about the past and the future in order to decide what to do in the present. However, the natural state of children is to find the quickest way to enjoy the present.
Children are easily impressed – especially by nature. They don’t have to see something that is enormously elaborate. Look at the way a child reacts when they see a dog compared to the way that most adults react to a dog. The child sees an opportunity to interact with something that it intuitively knows is magical and beautiful while the adult is probably cautious, irritable and probably pressed for time.
I’m obviously not suggesting that we run around acting like children. However, watching humans that have only been in the world for a short time and have not yet been directed to behave in a certain way can tell us something about what humans need and value at the most fundamental level.
Next article in this series: “Neuroplasticity”