Boost Your Happiness & Creativity By Acting Like A Child

by Leigh Shulman Oct 21, 2009

Photos by Leigh Shulman

We always say how it’s important to appreciate the small things in life, but do we really believe it?

Mornings have been difficult in our house lately. My five-year-old Lila takes her proverbial sweet time getting dressed. Every little thing, shirt, shoes, socks, everything becomes a massive time consuming endeavor. Most days, I find her sitting on the floor wearing only underwear and a pair of socks while singing made-up songs and acting out little shows with her stuffed cat – Kitty – and two plastic toy puppies named Rainbow Sprinkles and Flower Rice.

While I have to admit, I find it adorable, and even more so, applaud her creativity, getting dressed involves multiple reminders on my part. Read: nagging. Otherwise, it’s impossible to get out the door.

Lord Save Me From Sticker Charts

“Use a sticker chart,” people told me. But I’ve always hated those stupid charts. How tedious and demeaning. I mean, if you tried to motivate me out of bed in the morning with a sticker, even a puffy, sparkly Hello Kitty one, I’d seriously have to fight the urge to punch you in the face. And I am not normally a violent person. I don’t want people talking down to me. I don’t want to be treated as if I’m an idiot, needing some small and pointless reward in order to move me onto the next simple step.

But after trying everything else I could think of, I gave in, bought a notepad, some princess stamps and a pile of stickers.

1. Put on clothes.
2. Brush Hair.
3. Shoes.
4.Brush Teeth.
5.Take a Shower/Wash Face.
6. Brush teeth once again.
7. Go to bed.

For each activity she completes with great alacrity, she receives a stamp on her chart. For every full day of things she does without more than two reminders each from us, she gets a sticker. Every five stickers – meaning a perfect week without constant nagging on the part of us parents – Lila gets to do or have something fun of her choice.

See what I mean? Painfully tedious. You probably don’t even want to read the list.

I Was Wrong

But you know what? Lila adores this system. It excites and invigorates her. Our mornings are nagless as she runs to us to show how she’s completed each task and relishes each choice of stamp. I watch as her delight in a sticker becomes synonymous with her daily routines. Kitty, Rainbow and Flower partner in her project and she incorporates play into the more structured framework of her life.

That’s when it hit me. How wonderful to find pleasure in these small things. Perhaps the real problem is that we adults somehow stop finding contentment so easily. And maybe, just maybe, it would be pretty damn great if someone coaxed me through each of my daily projects with the promise of some minor reward.

Maybe a sticker wouldn’t excite you, but what would?

Photo by Leigh Shulman

A good piece of chocolate? A strong coffee or an afternoon alone to do as you please? Those would all be lovely, but do they strike you with the same intensity as Lila exhibits when she gets to choose her sticker at the end of the day?

My graduate school writing mentor Ed Rivera, author of Family Installments: Growing Up Hispanic in America, told me once that he believes the crux of creativity lies in the ability to never stop seeing the world as a child. I remind myself of that each time I sit down to write.

What would it take for you to find that pleasure in life’s everyday ordinary joys?

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