I took my first solo plane ride when I was five years old. Under the watchful eye of two kind stewardesses, I flew aboard the now-defunct Britt Airways to go visit my father. I remember feeling very important, proud, and thrilled.
Last week I flew from Pittsburgh to Greensboro, North Carolina for a speaking engagement, and as I scurried across the terminal in D.C. to make my connection I was struck by how much I still love navigating an airport. The people watching, the engineering, the reminder of my own privilege to be able to hop on a plane to conduct business – it never fails to impress me.
I suspect this is one of the reasons that travel – even business travel – still makes me so happy.
Sometimes it seems like we measure coolness by how unimpressed a person remains. We associate experience and savvy with one’s ability to be unaffected. But happiness, I’m convinced, is tied more closely to wonder than to aloofness – especially in the face of repetition.
Happiness is rooted in resilient curiosity and the ability to see the same miracle again and again.
The happiest people I know are easily amused. They are fascinated by strangers and awed by things like the changing of the leaves on the tree they drive by every day to work. Their seemingly low threshold for delight lets them synthesize happiness anywhere from just about anything.
I made a decision last week as I tooled around Lexington and Greensboro, North Carolina, reveling in the novelty of new restaurants and unfamiliar downtown districts:
I’d rather be impressed than impressive.
I resolve to cling to my wonder and keep my awe close to the surface.
I suppose that makes me a little like Peter Pan in that I want to never, never, never think of myself as too grown up to be as fascinated as a child.
Of course, I am not a child – and neither are you. We are adults with real responsibilities and routines that quickly make the amazing become mundane. We have adaptable brains that transform the new into the old with shocking speed. How, with all this maturity working against us, can we hope to maintain even a little of our childish enthusiasm?
1. Do a gratitude practice.
One of my favorite things about doing a gratitude practice is how attune it makes me to the tiny miracles happening all around me every day. I navigate my average days looking for material worthy of my gratitude journal, and that seeking attitude makes a big difference in how I perceive everything.
2. Play just for play’s sake.
A tendency when trying to have a happier life is to think about how we can translate what we love into how we earn money. While there is wisdom in that idea, there is also value in doing things you love as a form of play. Specifically: it gives you the freedom to do things you enjoy but are not good at, a type of play we often lose when we become adults.
Experiencing the unfocused, inconsequential joy that is so characteristic of childhood is a great way to keep yourself young at heart.
3. Go down the rabbit hole.
In order to grow your curiosity, you must feed it. Make a point of hunting down answers to the random “how come” questions that pop into your head. Notice when your interest is piqued and hop on the Internet or flip through a reference book on the subject.
While it’s true that we associate knowledge with adulthood, the habit of seeking it out is a constant reminder of just how much we have to learn.
Not everything about childhood is happy – insecurity and uncertainty are as common as control is rare – but one thing that is worth hanging onto is the ability recognize the awesome in just about everything.
Let yourself be dazzled. Be impressed again by the small wonders of the world. Make it easy for happiness to find you.
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