Toddlers and twenty-somethings have more in common than you might think. This revelation hit me one day as I watched my (college-aged) friends cavort around the playground at the park near campus, arguably having more fun than the children it was meant for.
Now that I’m a few years removed from college, the similarities continue to strike me—not to mention the desire to live a life as simple as a preschooler’s. When I see children as I’m out and about, I can’t help but feel a little jealous of their lives. Who wouldn’t want, at least sometimes, to go back to the days when an adult could fix every problem and days were filled with open, endless possibility?
The thing is, there’s no reason we can’t recapture some of that magic today. Our diets may no longer consist of Cheerios and juice boxes and our wardrobes of footie pajamas (though if they do, keep on it), but we can bring back some of the habits we had as children that are still good for us, no matter our age.
01. Make time to play.
At the end of a long Monday, when you’ve been sitting in a grey cubicle all day and you’re ready for an evening of nothing but Netflix and mini churros, the idea of playing seems a bit bizarre. Playing is something we reserve for children and pets; most people certainly don’t consider it an important part of their routines. We might even scratch our heads as we try to remember the last time we played.
But playing doesn’t have to mean kicking a ball around at the park. For us adults, play can mean anything we’re doing for the sheer joy of it—it could be board or video games, but it could also be a game of Frisbee with friends or solving a crossword puzzle. Play challenges the logical and creative parts of our brains and often helps us connect with others.
We’ve all heard about the importance of recess for children, but adults need breaks, too. During the workday, try taking a walk, solving a quick puzzle on your phone, or chatting with coworkers—and don’t feel guilty about doing something fun in the evenings. It’s not just enjoyable; it’s good for your health.
02. Ask questions.
Spend any amount of time around kids, and you’ll hear them ask not only why, but who, what, where, when and how, too (they’d probably make good journalists). They’re still learning about the world, so asking questions is the best way to get the information they need.
I’m not five years old anymore, but I’m pretty sure there is plenty about the world I have yet to discover. Why stop learning just because I’ve finished my formal education? The great thing about being done with school is that now we can dedicate more time to discovering the things we’re really passionate about, whether those things are French baking techniques, our family ancestry, or ways to break our 5k record.
We don’t—and shouldn’t—have to stop learning and being curious. It’s easier than ever to look up the answer to a question, find an interesting book, or meet other people who are interested in our favorite topics. Pick something you really want to know about and dive in. You might just find a new hobby—or a passion you can embrace for life.
03. Get enough sleep.
I vividly recall the days when my bedtime came before the summer sun had set. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to stay up past dark. We took naps at that age, too. The lesson our parents knew, even if we didn’t: Sleep is important—even more important than having fun or working.
As a culture, we often prioritize activity over getting the rest our bodies need. While it can be fun to stay up late on occasion, doing so too often can take its toll. I will be the first to admit that I function best on eight or more hours of sleep, but it’s much too rare for me to actually reach that goal. And the trouble I have concentrating and being productive the next day is never worth whatever I was doing while staying up late.
It turns out that it’s especially important for women to get enough sleep; we need about twenty minutes more a night than men. Twenty minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can add up over days, weeks, and months. If you’re having trouble getting your nightly dose, try these tips for helping your brain calm down in the evening:
- Stay away from screens for at least an hour before bed. Studies show that the blue light emitted by our phones, computers, and LED TVs can have negative effects on our sleep habits. If you must be connected, download blue light-blocking software or an app to soften the glare.
- Make sure your room is the right temperature. Cooler temperatures can help you fall asleep, so try knocking down the furnace or air conditioning a few degrees.
- Try to spend a few minutes before bed just doing nothing. I find that when I go to bed with racing thoughts it’s next to impossible to get to sleep. It helps to take a few moments to breathe, process those thoughts, and wind down before falling asleep.
04. Share with others.
Sharing is caring: the kindergarten axiom we all remember. For adults, it’s still important. While we probably aren’t sharing crayons and cookies anymore, we can share things that are just as meaningful to the people in our lives, like our time, our homes, and our attention. The way I see it, there are two ways in which this childhood habit of sharing is relevant to the grown-up woman.
One is sharing among friends, through simple conversations, quick visits, or an occasional lunch meetup—sharing our lives with each other and building meaningful relationships. Being a young woman can be tough; we’re often working long hours in new cities, far from old friends and family. Having friendships is critical to our health and well-being.
The other way of sharing is volunteering our time, talent, or treasure for the community. I used to think of volunteering as a “project,” something that took up your Saturday once a month. But lately I’ve learned so much more about service. It doesn’t have to be big to be meaningful. Donating school supplies, volunteering professional talents through sites like Catchafire, or serving a meal at a local shelter are all ways to weave volunteering into our lives.
While as kids we were taught that sharing is for the benefit of others, as adults we benefit from sharing, too. We grow as people when we share our time, homes, and compassion with others.
No matter how old we get, some of the most important things we can do for our health are the things we learned as children. We can’t go back in time, but if we start to rediscover a few of the simple habits we used to practice, we just might be able to recapture some of the innocent, untroubled joy of childhood.