How Having a Toddler is Akin to a Happiness Meditation

Self on 11.12.12
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Before I gave birth to my daughter, I was future-obsessed: always plotting and planning, worrying or anticipating. Everything I did was with the future in mind. It seemed to work for me…well, sort of. I remember worrying – I’m talking hand-wringing worrying – about all kinds of things that became irrelevant as the future unfolded. Funny how life works like that. Just what you think is going to happen rarely does.

Foiled plans aside, the real trouble with remaining so entrenched in the future is that I seldom enjoyed the present. I was always striving and pushing, climbing the corporate ladder, wishing for something else that was always out of sight around the corner. I very rarely took the time to bask in the present moment. In fact, it felt sort of icky and uncomfortable to do so.

I’d heard of meditation, of course. Who hasn’t at this point. But I thought I wasn’t cut out for having a quiet mind. Pre-kid, I didn’t quite understand or appreciate the benefits, like increased willpower and reduced anxiety. Now that I have a two-year-old underfoot, I can certainly understand the benefits.

Luckily, having a two-year-old is a lot like having a built-in meditation tool that accompanies you everywhere. (Say what?) Let me first explain a simple method for meditation. Meditation involves quieting the mind by bringing it back to a singular focus, such as the breath or your center. As the mind wanders, you continually bring it back to your breath in order to silence your inner monologue.

As I’ve written before, Harvard researchers found that, regardless of the activity, when subjects were focused on the task at hand, they were more likely to feel happy than if they were distracted or thinking about something else. Living mindfully in the present re-wires our brains for joy; a deliberate state of focused attention boosts happiness. Living mindfully is parallel to meditation in that we must continually refocus our mind, in this case on the present moment.

Okay, so what in the world does this have to do with a two-year-old? I’m glad you asked. A toddler is experiencing the world for the first time. An awesome meditation I like to do is to see the world through new eyes.

As we go outside walking, I might notice something like some drops of water balanced on a leaf. It’s not that remarkable. But when I bring my mind back continuously to a place where I’m imagining that I’ve never seen anything like it, I can appreciate how amazing a sight like this is: the tension on the surface of the water that holds the beads together, the way the transparent spheres balance on a leaf just so…it reminds me to point out little wonders such as these to my daughter as we walk so that she can appreciate them too.

We all have the potential to appreciate each day moment-by-moment, but I’ve had to work hard at it. Thankfully, my toddler and her “new eyes” help me bring my mind back to the present each time I’m with her.

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