Remember the poster “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?”
The premise was simple: adults make life out to be super complicated, but true wisdom can be found through the infinite insights of children and our childlike selves.
To me, kids are light years ahead of adults on the spiritual path to happiness. Before they become bogged down by what the world thinks of them, they are enamored with what they think of the world.
My 6-year-old niece is no exception. She has taught me more about life and love in the past 6 years than I’ve gained from a lifetime of soul-searching.
While I’m sure she’ll continue to be my teacher for many years to come, here are the most important lessons I’ve learned from her so far.
1. Be present.
My niece has no need of the past or future. When we’re together, she is completely open, focused, even obsessed with the present moment.
Because she is fully alive right now, no worries or stresses seem to enter her mind. After all, 99% of our perceived problems happen a) in our minds, and b) in the past or future. When I’m with her, I’m reminded of how easy and effortless life can be in the eternal moment of now.
2. Play every day.
Her number on priority in life? To play! That includes playing outside, playing pretend, playing games, and playing with friends. Her imagination leads her on extraordinary adventures without ever leaving the house.
Play gives her the innate sense of joy and purpose that so many of us lack in our lives, convinced that we don’t have time for such frivolities. But what’s frivolous about manifesting more joy, peace, and delight in your life?
She inspires me to spend at least a few minutes each doing something just for fun.
3. Be passionate.
My niece has become a talented gymnast in recent years, and has dedicated herself fully to the practice of her craft. She knows the names of every gymnast who competed in the last Olympics, watches gymnastics on television with fervor, and diligently practices at home on days when she doesn’t have class.
There is nothing arduous about her pursuit – it’s a pastime of pure joy. She’s not concerned with making money, becoming famous, or being successful. She’s simply living her passion, and her reward for doing so is the joy and achievement she feels while she’s trying to do a handstand.
4. Appreciate the little things.
The other day we went for a walk on the trail by her house. We stopped to admire some flowers, and ended up spending a good 10 minutes simply standing there, marveling at their beauty. My niece asked me some questions I couldn’t answer, so we decided to research the flowers once we got home from our walk.
I was astounded by the attention she paid to something I probably would’ve found pretty, but also pretty insignificant.
Children remind us of the joy and awe that can be found not only in nature, but in the tiny moments of our lives that combine to make one brilliant, magical existence.
5. Don’t judge.
A few months back I was babysitting my niece and took her along with me to run some errands. Upon picking up my dry cleaning, we were helped by a clerk who was clearly having a bad day. My clothes weren’t ready and instead of apologizing, he snapped “Maybe you should go somewhere else!”
Feeling a bit punched in the stomach by the sudden attack, she and I returned to the car in silence.
After a few minutes of driving, she finally said “It’s so sad.”
“What’s so sad?” I asked.
“That man is so sad because he lost his mother. When people are mean, it means they have no mother.”
Who knows how accurate her assessment was, but her incredible capacity for empathy reminded me of one of my favorite quotes of all time from author Wendy Mass: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
6. Value relationships above all else.
My niece’s best friend is a girl from her class. When her friend comes over to play, my niece spends hours in preparation, making sure her buddy’s favorite snacks are at the ready, making lists of games they can play and movies they can watch, and standing guard at the front window in anticipation of her car pulling into the driveway.
To her, a friendship is not a chore, and relationships aren’t something to be put on the back burner. She prizes and cherishes her friends and family above anything else in her life, and reminds me to do the same.
Children are more in tune with their highest selves. Our natural humanity shines through most easily in them, and it is through them that we can reclaim our own childlike sense of wonder, presence, and joy.