Through the Eyes of a Child
Have you ever wondered what the world looks like through the eyes of a child? It is a question that I have asked myself many times before, but without much serious thought. Lately, I have found myself pondering this question more because I have been spending every waking hour with my 6 month old daughter above. I was provoked to write about it after lifting her up from one of her scheduled naps. She greeted me with the largest smile and loving eyes I have ever experienced. She has done this many times before, but for some reason this time I had such an overwhelming feeling of love that my entire composition shifted. She was so happy and excited, spilling out with joy, that her father was about to pick her up from her crib. I am sure any parent has experienced and understands this. However this time, so many questions filled my head that I craved answers to. Questions like, why are children so incredibly happy? How can they be so excited upon waking, and furthermore, so exuberant to tackle the next second, minute and hour? As a result, I spent the next week trying to answer them, and was surprised with what I found. This blog entry is dedicated to those thoughts.
After picking Madex up, I could not help but wonder why she was so happy, so excited? She has experienced who her father is many times, and my being there upon wakening was nothing new. So why this time did it appear as though the greatest thing that could ever happen to her, just happened? My heart completely melted and I reciprocated the feeling back to her. If only we as adults could express this much love, this much happiness in many of our experiences. I have discovered that the answer to this question is – we can.
Without a doubt this becomes increasingly difficult as we repeat our experiences, take on responsibilities, mend our broken hearts, have our expectations fall through, and all the other general storms we deal with that accompany life. The beautiful thing about children is that everything around them is new. As adults, new has become old and we struggle to experience new things as frequently as children. The curiosity of discovering something for the first time is so fascinating, exciting and filled with wonder. Your mind becomes so present in that moment as you take in and process everything that object, environment or circumstance has to offer. Its smell, taste, feel, sound and motion, fire on so many neurons as your brain starts to categorize and give definition to that scenario. That zest for living and happiness that follows is obtained in those moments of experiencing new things. So how can we obtain this with experiences that are now old to us? How can we take something we have experienced many times and still express this love, joy and feeling of happiness that I child has? I found the answer to this question is, in two ways.
The first and easiest way, is to create new experiences. Find something new to do, or something new to learn. This is the easiest way to experience something as though you were seeing it through the eyes of a child. If it is something you have never seen, done or know about, you have the opportunity to touch, feel, smell, taste and listen to this new experience for the very first time. Do not waste it! Do not process and pass it by with urgency. Do not immediately allow your mind to categorize it to a like experience. Take your time and really create a memorable moment. Let all your senses absorb the scenario, giving your brain overwhelming amounts of information before it labels and gives an overall impression of that experience. Let it fill your heart, soul and mind with amazement – see the magic in it that makes it exist. It is a wonderful thing.
So get out of your comfort zone and experience new things. Read a book, play a new board game, learn a musical instrument or a language. Join a club, try a new sport, travel to a new destination, whatever it is – do it. The world is full of new experiences and it is humanly impossible to experience everything, so why do we stop exploring, discovering and learning as we get older. The world is moving at such an exploding pace that new ideas pop up all around us every day. As adults we generally stick close to what we are good at, or already know a lot about, but this is not the way to expand the mind and cultivate that sense of wonder. Do you ever wonder why so many people travel to the same destination for their vacation year after year? Obviously it is because they had such a wonderful time that they want to go back and experience it again. It also has a lot to do with it being familiar. This keeps them in their comfort zone, and often the second time is usually not as joyous as the first, because the experience is no longer brand new. I found however that there is also a lot more going on. Searching for a larger understanding of what is truly happening, I was lead to a second, and more scientific way in which we can create this joy and happiness.
The second and more difficult way to recreate this joy and happiness is to rewire our brains. As I said earlier, when you experience something for the first time many neurons begin firing messages about the experience’s attributes. As instantaneous as the neurons are firing, the brain is quickly categorizing each message so that you eventually come to an overall feeling and emotion of that experience. A neural pathway is created in the brain about the overall experience, whether it was positive, negative, sad, happy etc. Each time an individual repeats an experience, the same process happens. If the overall experience is similar or the same, that neural pathway is strengthened. Overtime, these pathways become gigantic neural highways which are very difficult to reshape. This is why belief systems are difficult to change, bad habits difficult to break. It is also why a positive experience is often repeated. If something makes you feel good, you generally will want to repeat that experience. On the other hand, if it makes you feel bad, you likely will avoid that experience and overtime may even develop a fear of like experiences. For example, someone that gets laughed at when giving a speech may develop a fear of public speaking. An individual who has a great time during a vacation to a particular destination, will want to return to recreate that experience and feeling. This is why it is easy to fall into experiencing those same things we are either good at, or that we have attached positive signals to. The more positive signals we send to our brain, the more we try to reinforce them by recreating like scenarios, which is why a child prefers their favorite game over and over. We as adults do the same thing, and will often turn to a favorable experience to recreate joy or forget suffering . Maybe it is camping, boating, fishing, the gym, drinking, drugs, etc., whatever it is, each time we fire those familiar neurons, we strengthen the already growing highway of similar feelings to that scenario. This is why bad habits can be difficult to break. Those pathways become so concrete that reshaping the feelings and definitions associated with them is almost impossible. I say almost, because you can change them, reshape them, and inevitably be rid of them, replacing them with something more positive or conducive to the life you want to live.
We do this by creating new neural pathways and breaking down destructive ones. Donald Hebb’s cornerstone and critical discovery in 1949 said, “neurons that fire together wire together” best explains how we strengthen these neural highways. We need to activate as many as these pathways as possible creating a network. A pathway that stands alone and does not wire together into a network, will eventually weaken and fade away. Think of the cliché – use it or lose it. Therefor, if you have a habit, opinion or emotional experience that you want to change, begin experiencing new or like scenarios and attach different emotions, feelings, and descriptions that you previously had to it. Do this, and continually repeat it, and you will rewire your brain and reshape your life.
When you change your beliefs, learn something new or become mindful of your habitual reactions to unpleasant emotions you actually change the neurochemistry and structure of your brain.Thomas Oppong
One pathway alone is not enough to rewire your brain, but pathway upon pathway will. So begin by becoming mindful about your experiences and ask what you are trying to create. How do you want to package your thoughts and mindset. As I said earlier, the key is in having new experiences, learning new things, becoming curious and asking questions about everything. It is much easier to not have to think and except all the information that is thrown at us, but doing this will prevent you from being the architect of your mind.
“Don’t think about why you question, simply don’t stop questioning. Don’t worry about what you can’t answer, and don’t try to explain what you can’t know. Curiosity is its own reason. Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity.”
Upon celebrating his 65th wedding anniversary, I asked my grandfather if he was excited that so many people came from all over to celebrate with him. His response surprised me as he stated, “at my age Richard, not much excites me anymore.” I was drawn back a little because achieving 65 years of marriage is quite an accomplishment. One individual came from as far away as the Netherlands to celebrate with him. I never got the chance to clarify what he meant, but I know he was excited because he laughed, danced and celebrated all night long. I believe what he meant was that when you have lived that long, and have experienced as much as he had, there was not much left that could recreate that excitement you once had about life. He knew he was in the final chapter of his life. However, not many people will ever get to experience a 65th Wedding Anniversary. The accomplishment alone is something to marvel and be excited about. Unfortunately for him, my grandmother was present in body, but not in mind as she was in the final stages of Alzheimers disease. I know this pained my grandfather deeply and took much of the excitement of that day away. Most of his speech spoke of the type of woman my grandmother was. I may never understand how difficult it must have been for him to celebrate his 65th Anniversary without his wife being present in mind with him, but I do know that it showed me a good example of how we can frame and shape a scenario in any way we choose. For him, he knew that this would likely be the last anniversary he shared with his wife, so he engulfed every moment with amazement, carefully choosing his words, never missing an opportunity to enjoy the cake, dance, or speak to whomever wanted to. I am certain he carried the meticulous details of that night with him until the end.
“God Lives in the Details”
Teach yourself to look at things like a child. Pay attention to the details, for it is there that you will find the magic, the happiness. Just because we are getting older, it does not mean that we have to accept the way everything has been categorized and defined in our brains. Like a child, never stop asking questions, which will inevitably lead to more questions. Learn new things and seek out answers. Do not stop seizing opportunities to grow. Through growth we reshape our minds, expand our knowledge, and create happiness. Happiness should be present in our lives every day, it should not be something we search for as it is not found outside of ourselves. It it found within us, and created by us in how we perceive, give definition and emotion to the wonders around us. It is a choice, and I choose happy; do you? My daughter lives this way, and I vow to foster and strengthen this attitude for the rest of my life. I want to wrap up with a quote I have always adored and thought to be something all parents should teach their children. It is credited to a few people, all to which I have found to be inaccurate. It does not matter who said it; what matters is what it is telling us.