Children: The Happiness Experts

30/08/2016 17:05 | Updated 31 August 2016
karenfoleyphotography via Getty Images

Yesterday a girl of about six approached me on the tube. "I like your nails," she announced.

"I like your trainers," I said suspiciously.

She stamped her feet and her shoes duly lit up and flashed. "They make me so happy," she cooed, staring at her feet in dumb adulation.

Now clearly kids are stupid, we all know a pair of trainers can't make you happy, as admittedly awesome as hers were, but in that moment I was so jealous of that little girl. She had no money worries, no relationship woes, no career to panic about and she was blissfully unaware of the concept of a hangover. I am taking unsettling comfort in knowing that one day she will share the same anxiety, shame and confusion as the rest of us. After all, who's actually happy? I mean, here I am, wishing misery on a six-year-old. That should give you some idea of where I'm at spiritually. A sweet, friendly little girl, and I can't wait for her to get her heart broken, her phone stolen, and then get remorselessly sacked from the job she hated to begin with, and finally face the long walk home. Alone. In shoes that don't light up. Welcome to reality, bitch.

Yes, I'm hideously jealous of children. When you're a kid it's all about the present moment. And they don't just expect joy, they demand it. How many times do you hear that high-pitched cry of "but I want it now!" when you're trying to enjoy your red wine in peace? But enough about church. Children think only of how they feel in a given moment. What they have to hand, who they're with, whatever they're doing is all that steers their emotions. I am eating a bun - I feel happy. I have to walk and my legs hurt - I feel sad. They are given an ice-cream and immediately forget their favourite toy is broken. They then drop the ice-cream and wail like a distressed seal pup until they are presented with the next shiny new distraction. Children have no sense of perspective. They are masters of mindfulness. And I am desperately jealous of that.

When you're an adult there is no ice-cream in existence delicious enough to make your overdraft seem insignificant. There is no paint so vivid a colour that you can forgive the fact that Michelle (fucking Michelle!) got the position you applied for. There is no toy so delightful to banish the knowledge that your ex is marrying someone apparently fit enough to make him forget that he is adamantly anti-marriage. Yes, children are ludicrous little people who seem to have no grasp of the bigger picture, but I can't help but feel they are on to something with this instant gratification stuff.

I am a worrier. Usually I panic about stuff that hasn't happened - in fact I specialise in scenarios that are downright unlikely to unfold. I can work myself into a cold sweat wondering what I would do if I accidentally killed my friend's baby - I'm available for babysitting any time by the way - I can lie in bed and graphically picture how I would react if the ceiling caved in on me (curl into a ball and play dead); In fact I could worry professionally. Indeed I do - and then I worry I don't do it well enough.

I'm also good at looking forward to things. Getting excited, fantasising, imagining how much fun something will be. Then when the event comes to pass, I rarely enjoy myself. I'm too busy thinking about how it's going, how I'll make my way home, how hungover I'm going to feel tomorrow, and worst of all: when it's all over and done with, then I will worry about how I don't seem to be able to enjoy things.

And if something bad happens? I am no more prepared than I would have been if I'd not been worrying. Most of the time the worst case scenario proves to not be that big of a deal and one negotiates it without even thinking. All that sapped energy, all that wasted stress, all that misplaced potential enjoyment!

We disapprove of childishness in adults. We all know we have to grow up, become responsible, contribute to society in some form or another. Childish people's maddening enjoyment of life often seems to come at the cost of an exhausting drain on the 'adults' around them. But is there a way to harness this infuriatingly cheerful mindfulness whilst upholding one's mature responsibilities? For all my worrying and day-dreaming, I am no master at existing in the moment, at simply being. And it's not just me; sometimes I feel I am surrounded by brilliant people worrying their lives away.

We all recognise that feeling of working hard all week, excitedly watching Friday approach, then panicking on Saturday because tomorrow is Sunday and then, bam, it's Monday again. We finally save up for that holiday only to reflect on the second day that, ugh, this time next week we'll be back at work. So many of us are being frog-marched through our lives by our own dread of whatever terrible thing might be looming around the corner. Meanwhile kids are splashing in puddles, kicking through leaves and finding ways to distract themselves from whatever fleeting disappointment may have cropped up. Adults need alcohol or drugs to shake off their preoccupations and inhibitions; kids are pulling their skirts over their heads and dancing down the street. Children are, as I said, absurd, but they may just also be geniuses at handling life's many troughs among the peaks.

Just once I would like to get off the phone with the bank, pull on my favourite trainers (which would light up obviously) and go and frolic in the park. I want to sit down and play with a train-set because it's Tuesday. I want to not think about an event until I'm there and then forget myself, enjoy the company and have fun. I want to eat cake because cake is delicious and not feel guilty about the delicious cake. I want to look at a box and see a world of playtime possibilities instead of a trip to the recycling (which is about a 40 second round trip from my kitchen by the way, but which I still refer to as 'my Everest').

I want to grow old and reflect on wonderful memories of lovely times with fabulous people, not recall years of stress and fear and worry. I want to be present and live my life, not observe it. I want to be childish, and let hurt and disappointment enter my head for fleeting moments before they are banished by the next delightful thought.

So now if you'll excuse me, there's a great looking tree outside my window which I simply must climb. Then I'm going online to find flashing trainers in a size seven.


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