Have you ever noticed how happy children seem to be? Take a look at your 1st grade class picture… chances are almost everyone is smiling, and none of the smiles are those ‘contrived’ smiles we have learned to master as adults. I have often been amazed at the natural glow and happiness that seems to emanate from infants even. What do they have to be happy about anyway? They are practically immobile – little helpless lumps that can’t do anything on their own. One would think that the ‘happiness curve’ would look completely opposite than the way it really is. It seems that as we grow and become more self-sufficient that our happiness should increase. In theory, by the time we are old and have the most financial power and influence, we should be the most happy… In reality though, for most of us it looks completely opposite – as we gain greater self-sufficiency with age, our happiness decreases proportionately…
Why is this? It can’t be just a matter of perspective or thinking… after all infants are hardly even self-aware. If anything the very lack of perspective or thinking is their greatest advantage. Infants aren’t concerned about anything outside of the moment. If they have a dirty diaper, they let everyone know about it - but they certainly aren’t worried about the next dirty diaper… or how it’s going to be changed. In between dirty diapers and hunger pains though, the world of an infant is filled with wonder and amazement… to the degree that adults constantly question the sources of their mysterious outbursts of amusement.
Fast forward a few years, and most 9 year olds are thinking about what they want to be when they ‘grow up’. Their thoughts about the future at this age are at best vague and non-specific, and the dreams of becoming firemen or ballerinas rarely takes priority over enjoying recess. For the most part at this age they are not too concerned about anything that isn’t right in front of them. As self-awareness develops over the next years, the smiles that once characterized childhood become the frowns and sighs of teenage years. Thus the quest for self-improvement begins, and our goals and ambitions for the future are focused entirely on fixing the lack that we see in ourselves.
Of course that quest never ends in fulfillment, as the lack we see in ourselves only keeps pace with every one of our accomplishments or failures. As adults we learn to master the art of self-deception, and refuse to recognize this pattern in our lives. Consequently, and ironically, as we grow older instead of thinking less about the future – we think about it more. The reason for this is simple… the future becomes our only hope for fulfillment, and to let go of this hope is to accept the emptiness of our reality. But does our reality, the moment we are in right now, have to be empty?
It is clear that in order to be happy, we must enjoy the moment we are living in. God has given us an intellect for a reason, and one of the best uses of that intellect is to ‘count your blessings’ instead of focusing on our lack. Also the source of happiness for a mature adult is different from that of an infant. An infant, while carefree is also an entirely self absorbed creature. A mature adult has learned to look beyond themselves and their own needs – and has begun to focus on the needs of others. This is the joy of parenthood, and as long as our focus and plans as adults are not self-serving, there is no reason we can’t preserve a youthful smile into our old age...
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