Is youth the secret to happiness?

by Paul Goodchild on July 25, 2010

Happy Balinese children

What is it exactly that little children possess in abundance, allowing them to play, sing, and laugh so carelessly, that we adults seem to have misplaced somewhere along the way?

Or at least, I feel I seem to have lost it sometimes.  I wonder what secret ingredient is contained within those little minds that they too will inevitably and become, to a greater or lesser degree, just like the rest of us.

While teaching a kindergarten class when I first went to the migrant school I’m now regularly teaching in, I remember wondering at how simple, happy, and fun their lives in that moment appeared.

Naturally then, I began contrasting with my own.  Many of us wallow in the thoughts about how complicated our lives have become, but regardless of what we tell ourselves, it is a quagmire of our own making.

Word count: ~1000. Approx reading time: 5~10 minutes.

Why do we have to grow up?

Self-awareness – the realisation that you are an individual and connected with many (every?) other people, is a radical paradigm shift.  As older children and younger adults we then become self-conscious and reserved until we develop the degree of self-worth and self-confidence required, in this new adult world.  How much we’re able to believe in ourselves will dictate the course of our lives and the opportunities we allow ourselves.

Self-awareness development is a double-edged sword, however.  Before coming to appreciate your place in the world, to realise that you are not alone and your actions affect other people in one way or another, all you really know is you.  You do things for yourself.  There’s no-one else to consider, so decisions are easy to make and life’s goal is to feel good and have fun!

And that’s what I want to get a handle on… what exactly are we substituting to reach the next level of so-called “maturity”?  In many ways it seems like the trade-off isn’t worth it for most of us?  Life just isn’t as fun after you make the switch.

You will naturally begin to argue that we all have to “grow-up” sometime, since that’s what you were repeatedly told when you were young and as you grew older.  You installed the same script as your parents did, the same script their parents did before them, and so on.  But is it a valid approach to living our lives?  I wonder.  What’s the point in living if it’s not fun any more?  What’s the point if you’re not happy?

Bill Hicks put it better than I ever could:

Children are smarter than any of us. Know how I know that? I don’t know one child with a full time job and children.

There is a serious truth contained within that quote.

How do we substitute for unhappiness?

We get drunk; or we get high on drugs, shopping, sex, and drama etc; or we take the edge off with excess food and cigarettes.  We occupy our ‘blank spaces’ with crap!  Space that would otherwise allow us to contemplate our predicament and perhaps lead to sinking realisation, acceptance, and hopefully to change.

Alternatively, we don’t even allow for any blank spaces by working ourselves to exhaustion for the noble goal of earning more money.

What do you substitute for true happiness?  And how do you avoid thinking about it?

Is forcing children to “grow up” just like we did really in our best interests?  Is it in their best interests?  Does inevitable monotony and growing up have to go hand-in-hand?

The opposite of the traditional approach is to not mature, as we typically define it, and be completely irresponsible.  I don’t think that’s sustainable either, just as I don’t think raising children to be responsible, miserable worker-drones is clever.  Surely there must be a middle-way here… an approach that balances the two sides.

Take a moment to think about your life, and ask yourself perhaps is there a less severe approach that you can move towards that doesn’t demand you to be “responsible” all the time.  Perhaps you could look for more ways to open up avenues in your daily life to let happiness reach you.  Try to cut yourself some slack…?

I know I’m really bad at that and I need to practice.  I worked my ass off in school trying to get the best grades I could since I had, and sometimes still exhibit, perfectionist tendencies.  The same was true for university since anything short of a 1st would have, at the time for me, represented a failure on my part.  I couldn’t see at the time that it’s really not as important as I made it out to be.  But then hindsight is 20:20.

Adopting Pareto’s Principle has eased stress and workloads for me, and trying to become conscious of not always having to be productive in the Western traditional sense, is essential for me to create space for finding enjoyment daily.  I’m still not very good at it, but I’m trying.  Travelling and living in Thailand has certainly tested and expanded my comfort zones in these regards.

Is teaching our children, and demanding of one another, to be mature, productive grown-ups all time, really in our collective best interests?  Perhaps my view is a little simplistic and I haven’t thought it through enough.  How irresponsible of me!  Next time you scold a child for being a child for doing “childish” silly things, try to consider his/her point of view.  Rather that teach him that doing what he/she did was plain negative/bad/wrong, instil within them positive values such as respect, consideration, sharing, connection and perhaps how to integrate that within their current view of the world.

I don’t have a conclusion to this… I partly just wanted to articulate my thoughts and concerns, and open a discussion at least with myself.  A discussion about lost youth and how I can maybe help my future children, and children I encounter in schools and elsewhere, retain a healthy attachment to simple happiness and their youth that so many of us adults seemed to have forgotten.

I’d love to hear what you think… please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas on this below.  If you liked this article, consider sharing it with friends and you can do it with a click or two using the Facebook link below too.  Thank you for visiting!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie Chapman August 1, 2012 at 12:52

Really enjoyed reading this, glad I stumbled on it.

I agree, that people are made to ‘grow up’ and ‘be responsible’ too fast, in such a serious way that you can’t think of being any other way than grown up and responsible. I think it’s important to find the balance of everything to a point where you’re happy. It’s great to let go every now and again, to just have fun, be a bit irresponsible and do ‘childish’ things. As long as those things are not harming anyone else, then I don’t see the problem in them.

For me, happiness comes from new experiences, travelling and interacting with people. That’s a big part of what makes me feel happy. Again, find the balance and live knowing that all these little things we all worry about daily, are often the most unimportant things in our lives.


Paul Goodchild August 7, 2012 at 20:19

Thanks Jamie… glad you enjoyed it.

You’re absolutely right in saying it’s about finding the balance and not causing harm as you go. It’s equally important to find and define those things that actually make you happy so you can focus in on them.

Thanks for commenting – it’s good to know people are reading it and finding some use from what I’m writing 🙂



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