• lynneeveratt

Be childish, be brilliant

When you look at a baby, what do you see? A helpless little bundle of blank cuteness? According to developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik, far from being intellectually empty, babies and children think like a combination of the most brilliant scientists and the most perceptive poets. “Being a baby is like being in love in Paris for the first time after you’ve had three double espressos,” says Dr. Gopnik in her entertaining Ted Talk “What do babies think?” According to Gopnik, as discussed in a recent conversation with Ezra Klein, children are like a different form of Homo sapiens. They’re designed to learn, to explore, and to extract as much information as possible from their surroundings so that they can develop and test hypotheses that help them make sense of the world. Children are the research and development departments of the human species. Adults are the production and marketing departments of humanity, designed to get things done and publicize their accomplishments. As adults we’re goal-directed and self-absorbed, our consciousness focused like a spotlight on series of outcomes. A child’s consciousness is diffuse, like a lantern, taking in everything. At this point you probably have a sense for why becoming more childlike might be good for you. There are at least three ways that being like a child can make you a better, healthier, and happier adult.

1. Being childlike makes your mind numinous. Imagine walking down your street and seeing it illuminated in all its weirdness, wildness, and splendor. This is the open awareness of a child who sees wonder in everything, a quality of mind that Gopnik refers to as numinous. When you turn up the dial on awe, you turn down the dial on ego and become lighter and more childlike. A recent Vogue interview with America's first youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman ends as she takes in a vista of Los Angeles with the wide-angled awareness of a child. “Everything is still here!” she exclaims joyfully. Climbing to a hilltop in California or traveling somewhere you’ve never been before can awaken a sense of wonder, but seeing the familiar with new eyes can do the same thing. Take a health-enhancing awe walk in which you actively seek out the awesome in your neighborhood, or if you’re feeling more ambitious, train yourself to take note of the numinous by writing a poem that describes an everyday object or occurrence in a novel way. Here's some inspiration from the poet Gideon...

2. Be a child and don't stop learning. Another way that you can tap into your inner R&D department is to learn something new. Infants learn to walk, to talk, and to navigate the world. As we age, we don’t challenge our brains to nearly this extent. We get locked into routines of repetitive doing, as if to tell our brains, “Hey, I don’t need you to be as smart as you once were.” I’m struggling to learn a new language, imagining that the effort is making my gray matter sweat and sending the message that I need my brain to become stronger. As I sound out Greek words, wrestling with a new alphabet, new vocabulary and a slippery system of stressed syllables and shapeshifting articles, I'm back in grade one with my Mr. Whiskers reader. Each new word is a linguistic puzzle, but once solved, I marvel at how my brain instantly recognizes what I’ve learned and can effortlessly skip over what once felt so mentally strenuous. Until I hit the next unfamiliar word. This, I think to myself, must have been what it was like to be six.

3. Play like a child. Bet you knew that play would be one of the three childlike activities that are good for you, but did you know that play can make you more resilient? Alison Gopnik works with artificial intelligence researchers at Berkeley and has demonstrated that play—exploring possibilities without a goal in mind—enables AI to deal with the unexpected. Play seems to have a sleeper effect in children, with the positive effects kicking in decades later. Those who engage in the most play as children are healthier, less likely to go to prison, and have a higher salary than those who don‘t play. You can bring more play into your world by treating your life as a fun experiment in which you try out different professional and personal possibilities. With play, you become less like a caterpillar inching along a familiar path and more like a butterfly accustomed to change and open to new experiences.

You don't have to miss your life, Mina. Links for your inner child to play with:

  • How to Buy Happiness The Atlantic

  • This Is How To Have A Long Awesome Life: 5 Secrets From Research Eric Barker

  • Regular Exercise May Help Protect Against Severe Covid The New York Times

  • Your Burnout is Unique. Your Recovery Will Be, Too Harvard Business Review

  • The Voice In Our Head and How to Harness It, with Dr Ethan Kross Feel Better Live More podcast

Wishing you a childlike day in the best way, Lynnie

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