“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso
Sometimes I lounge lazily in bed, in the middle of the day, with a couple of my kids and just abandon my worldly concerns, and just play.
Or I’ll sit and just watch them play, pretending they’re superheros or princesses or playing house or shooting each other with stick guns.
It never fails to leave me with a sense of wonder, of pure joy, of a return to innocence and a simpler time.
As grown ups, we’ve lost this childlike sense of life. And that’s actually a sad thing.
It’s not just about happiness and innocence either — being more childlike also helps us to be more creative, more imaginative, more innovative and open to worlds of possibilities.
Consider: as children, we are naturally imaginative, curious, able to play without a worry in our minds. Some qualities of young children that happen naturally:
- they live in the present
- they have no concerns about money, productivity, or being cool
- there are no limits to their imagination, except what they’ve been exposed to
- they play and lose themselves in play
- they create with abandon
- they are endlessly curious, and ask questions … without end
- they love showing off to their parents
We could learn a lot from children. Sure, they have qualities we might not want, but in my eyes, they are already perfect. We don’t need to mold them into people, we need to be more like them.
We lose this childlike nature, the nature we’re born with, because of society — it has certain institutions and systems in place that beat childishness out of us, so we can be more productive citizens and consumers. I think it’s unfortunate.
We shouldn’t abandon all responsibilities, but we can learn a lot from children and be more like them in some ways.
How to be childlike
We must first acknowledge that no change is instantaneous, that any change worth keeping takes time. But you can start today.
Start by deciding to abandon caution and to give this a try. Start by identifying the qualities of children you’d like to emulate: curiosity, play, living in the moment, abandoning worries, imagination, creativity, pure joy.
Observe children. Watch how they play, how they live, how they create, how they ask questions. Sure, sometimes they do dumb things like throw tantrums, but even in that you can see their pure abandonment of everything but what is happening to them right now. Watch and learn.
Play with children. If you have some of your own, great. If not, play with children of friends and family. Lose yourself in the play. Be a dinosaur, or a gorilla, or a villain. Have a joyous time. Make them squeal in delight, and feel free to do the same yourself.
Talk with children. Ask them questions. Answer theirs. Don’t talk down to them with baby talk, but don’t be too grownup either.
Play by yourself. Go outside and run around, jump, slide, kick a ball around, pretend. Forget about who might be watching.
Create like a child. Don’t be constrained with what people expect, what you’re used to. Be wild and have fun. Imagine that things can be different, that there are no limitations, and see what happens. Most of your childlike drawings will be tossed in the trash, but some might be put up on the fridge.
Be curious like a child. Look at things with a child’s eye, and ask questions you’ve never asked before, explore with a beginner’s mind. Don’t be afraid to ask why, and what if, and why not?
Live in the moment. Forget about all you have to do. Forget about what happened yesterday, or that conversation you had. Forget about that meeting that’s coming up, or those deadlines. Just do, and be.
See the world with new eyes. It is a wondrous place, a miracle happening every second, a source of immense fascination that can knock you on your ass if you let it. You are a miracle, and every moment you have is a gift. What will you do with that gift?
And last, if you have children, let them be childlike. Stop trying to make them grow up. Stop trying to shape them, criticize them, make them your own piece of clay, as Marvin Gaye said. Let them be, and enjoy the beautiful way they already are.
“Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they’re looking for ideas.” – Paula Poundstone
How to Be Childlike was originally posted on Zen Habits on 9/16/09.