Are you happy?
I hope so. But experience tells me that most adults will pause to think about their answer. At best, it’s probably a mixed happy, or a cautious one.
That’s okay—I mean, it’s only to be expected. This world we live in ain’t all sunshine and roses, and it doesn’t take too many years bumbling around in it to figure that out.
Recently a few relatives came to visit and I ended up temporarily responsible for a fourteen-month-old child.
She. Is. Adorable.
What really struck me, though, was the way she experiences joy: wholly, boisterously, with absolutely no regard whatsoever for where she is or what is considered socially acceptable.
In other words: without shame.
We adults are so guarded with our emotions! And to a certain point, this makes sense—I mean, there’s always a danger of hurting ourselves or others when we’re too free with our feelings. I sure as hell don’t want to be in Kenmore Square with a thousand Red Sox fans carrying beers in their hands and hearts on their sleeves.
But the way this kid howls with laughter! Just the sight of a beloved relative has her clapping and dancing. Her mouth stretches out into the kind of grin that strains my facial muscles when I try it, because they just aren’t used to it anymore. When I saw her smile like that, a little part of me couldn’t help feeling sad thinking about how rare it is for us adults to feel like that.
Anger, disappointment, sadness—sure. Let’s keep a little filter on those. Let’s try not to be terrible to other people. I can get behind that. That kind of maturity is A-OK.
But joy? Why the hell should we hide that?
The concept of acting cool is childish, far more so than this kind of reckless happiness. It’s the knee-jerk reaction that happens when we’ve been burned for showing love. And how horrible is that? No one should ever have to feel that. But it seems like all of us have.
I understand that defensive impulse. Trust me—I probably get it better than most, as a still-recovering Designated Shy Kid.
Don’t let it take your joy away.
There’s a little kid in all of us, still, no matter how old we are. Sometimes that kid needs to stay in time-out—for god’s sake, don’t let them throw a tantrum—but don’t forget about them. Let them breathe a little.
Allow yourself a little wonder. I hope it makes you happier.