Learning optimism from an 18-month-old

How to be happy: lessons learned from an 18-month-old

By Anna Trevelyan cropped-anna-pic-2-e1436354275658.jpg

As an adult, it takes hard work to be happy. In the adult world you are constantly thrown curveballs to challenge your happiness (relationship break ups, money, the news, work, taxes, the deficit, arguments with neighbours over bins and whatever curveballs actually are as it sounds pretty painful). These things do not affect how happy my 18-month-old is. He is aware of money (in that he can’t eat it) but it doesn’t dictate his happiness. If he doesn’t have any money he is as happy as if he had a shed load of it (in fact, he’d rather have a shed load of dandelions).

I started observing his behaviour and what made him happy, in an effort to pick up some tips:

Time is more important than money

My toddler is happiest when he is around the people he loves. It’s not an expensive theme park or a meticulously planned day trip that makes him happy, it’s who he is with. He would rather be poking around in a shed full of spiders with his grand parents than at Longleat with a load of strangers. Hooray for free entertainment and no-one elbowing you out of the way to get to the porcupines.

Brands are irrelevant

He couldn’t care less about the clothes he wears, where they are from or whether they actually go together. He only wants to be warm. (Actually, he would probably rather be naked all the time but I haven’t adopted this one for decency’s sake.) I think the lesson here is that if you’re not comfortable in your own skin then you probably won’t ever be when clothed, no matter how much money you pay for it.

It doesn’t matter what you look like

It took me years of my adult life to manage to leave the house without any make-up on. My little one couldn’t care less what he looks like. Mis-matched shoes he has chosen himself, hair looking like an 80s Pat Sharp or covered head to toe in mud – he just doesn’t care how people perceive him. In fact, the crazier he looks the more people smile at him, which just makes him happier.

There’s no such thing as bad weather

I usually look outside and groan every time it’s a rainy morning. My toddler looks out in glee if it’s raining, as he is thinking of jumping in puddles and getting completely filthy in the sodden garden. He’s definitely a glass-half-full kind of guy.

Be optimistic

My toddler can’t say “no”. Literally. He can only say “yes”. He will try anything (even if it’s slimy), he smiles at anyone and he doesn’t worry about things in advance of when they may or may not happen. In short – he lives in the moment.

Challenges become opportunities

When a great mound of earth was dumped near our house (don’t ask) I was annoyed. My little one saw this as a hill to climb up and jump off of. When the bathroom was wrenched out and a gaping hole was left in its wake, he enjoyed making his voice echo. When I tripped over and sent a punnet of raspberries flying through the air he enjoyed eating them off of the floor. You get the picture – turning an annoyance into an opportunity is a very good skill to have.

Animals are our friends

My little one loves animals of all shapes and sizes (sometimes maybe a little too much – I have had to yank his hand out of a goat or llama’s mouth on more than one occasion). He respects them, he enjoys their company and he gets upset if he sees they are unhappy. If only more people shared his opinion.

See the good in everyone – so long as they are nice

No matter what age, race, sexuality, religion, gender or background, my little one will keep smiling at you if you smile back. He doesn’t judge, he doesn’t criticise and he is entirely without prejudice. As long as you’re nice, he’ll like you, which is all that matters really.

Laugh at your own misfortune

On a recent trip to the shops a puddle of dripping water in the freezer aisle led to both me and my toddler doing the splits in the Tesco Express. Ordinarily I would have been furious at such an event of unwanted leg separation but we both collapsed in giggles after he started laughing first. I hate the compensation culture, so I’m encouraging more of a chortle culture.

Bank your happiness

This one is the most important – he remembers things that really make him happy and locks it away in his little memory bank. For example, when riding my bike recently he observed me topping over inelegantly into a giant bush. This made him laugh a great deal, drawing a small yet delighted crowd. Now, whenever he sees me on a bike (or even just a bike) he laughs; recalling this memory and enjoying the ridiculous scene all over again. I now try to keep a mental note of times I was particularly happy or something that really made me laugh – happiness banked – to recall later on, when it’s needed.

Clearly, I’m never going to be as care-free as he is as I do have adult things to worry about as well. But a few of them – such as not caring so much what people think, enjoying the little things in life and banking happy thoughts for a rainy day – have really stayed with me. It takes hard work to be happy. Us adults have still got the dreaded deficit to worry about. We’d better rely on our savings.screen-shot-2012-05-09-at-2-10-27-am


2 thoughts on “How to be happy: lessons learned from an 18-month-old

  1. Helena Trevelyan says:

    THree cheers for Rupert. He loves people unconditionally. He does not judge you or make you feel imperfect. He has taught me a lot about happiness and responding to life in the present. This may be a lighthearted blog, but it is also profound and philosophical. Rupert has taught me a lot and encouraged me to say, ‘Look at that’ when I am out with Gavin!!!! Thank you Wonderful Blogger Anna for putting these ideas togetherxxx


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