I recently spent the afternoon with my toddler nephew, playing with trains and trucks and various stuffed Disney characters. For the three or so hours I was with him, I don’t think he went a minute without smiling or giggling. I observed him as he riotously ran around the living room, letting out shrieks of excitement. He was happy, I was happy. We were caught up in fleeting moment after fleeting moment, and for those three hours we were completely in the now without any exigency. We were being.
It sounds painfully existential and romanticized, but in the end you can’t argue the truth: toddlers are great role models. Toddlers are rarely upset, and when they are, it lasts an infinitesimal moment. Then they move on to something else, seemingly forgetting whatever had upset them seconds ago. Toddlers are free spirits in the purest form, reeking of innocence and mirth. Sure, as adults we may be jaded and un-innocent on different levels, but shouldn’t we strive to possess some of those childlike qualities?
Why are toddlers so happy? Perhaps it has something to do with — more often than not — being the center of attention. Perhaps because naivety is bliss. Perhaps because shorter attention spans allow you to forget reasons you have to be upset. But toddlers are also happy because they truly live in the moment. A toddler acts based upon how it will affect him presently. He isn’t waiting in anticipation for a future time in his life, and he isn’t melancholic or nostalgic for a time long passed. He doesn’t even know how to feel nostalgic, and the only thing he knows about anticipation is watching his mother pour ice cream into a bowl.
Think if you adopted a toddler’s ultimate sense of living in the moment. You wouldn’t even take things day by day, but hour by hour. You wake up in the morning completely unsure of what would happen in the afternoon, only with one thought, “am I happy right now?” And if the answer was no, you would immediately seek out a way to change that. Anxiety would dissipate, because you can’t be anxious when you don’t concern yourself with imminent upcoming events. It seems laughable; you have obligations. You have a 401k, a 10-year plan, debt, and a mortgage—you can’t live in the moment. But there’s a difference between living in the moment and still being prepared for what may come. Emily Dickinson once said “the future is composed of nows”, and if you focus on the nows and do everything you can to maximize those nows, the future should take care of itself.
A toddler also manages to balance curiosity and naivety in a way so that neither is a vice. Couldn’t we all benefit from that as well? What if we all woke up every morning curious of the people we encountered but not in a judgmental fashion? What if we yearned for discovery and were always passionate? These are staples in a toddler’s personality, and traits we should never want to lose. Yet we get jaded over time and trudge through days with resentment and pessimism.
Finally, a toddler loves. A toddler loves unconditionally and quickly, and is even quicker to forgive. A toddler’s love is blind and boundless. Watch how a toddler reacts to his parents, or someone else in his immediate family. How often do you feel like that? Couldn’t we all use more of that passionate, almost whimsical love?
I truly believe we can do ourselves a favor by trying to be more like a toddler. Does it sound frivolous? For obvious reasons, yes. Is it quixotic? Absolutely, we’re talking about modeling behavior after someone who eats dog food and writes on walls. But is it such a bad thing to be a child at heart? Can’t we learn from toddlers just as they learn from us? Perhaps maybe we should attempt to live with the zest of a 3 year-old.