Spending time with children is in many ways like eating carrots. While some people naturally love it, other people will consciously have to work at getting used to it – especially if one hasn’t done it for a while. However, whether it comes naturally or not, doing it is exceptionally good for you.
There are so many different micronutrients in vegetables that it is difficult for scientists to identify them all, let alone reproduce them in pill form. Similarly, people who regularly spend quality time with children benefit from these experiences in countless ways.
One of the benefits of children is that they are able to live in the moment, laugh easily and be playful without feeling silly. As we grow into adulthood many of us lose the ability to laugh, to have a sense of humour, and ‘to take ourselves lightly’. People, who allow themselves to connect with children on their level and get into their world, find it much easier to reconnect with their own ‘inner child’.
The good news is that our bodies naturally release ‘feel-good hormones’ called endorphins into our systems when we laugh out loud. So laughing with children allows you to tap into a powerful resource that is known to relieve physical tension and stress, boost the immune system and protect the heart, both physically and figuratively.
In fact, Norman Cousins tells in his book Anatomy of an Illness, how he was cured of a potentially fatal illness by watching comedy movies. He literally used laughter as therapy. Children laugh so freely and easily that being around them can be described as being in a “therapy zone”.
We can learn a great deal from extensive studies done by the World Health Organization into the lifestyles of communities that are well-known for their longevity, such as the Italian community of Campodimele, the Hunza of Pakistan, and the Okinawans who live on islands near Japan.
What do these communities have in common that cause them to enjoy a life expectancy 20-30 years higher than the rest of us?
Not surprisingly, they eat sparingly of a largely plant-based diet and their daily exercise incorporates physical activity such as gardening and walking. But most interestingly, another similar pattern that was found in all of these very special communities is that they typically live in close family units of five generations living under one roof. As a result, adults get to interact with little children often and for most of their lives.
They live simply and slowly as they provide their children with healthy boundaries and enough emotional stability and security that will sustain them throughout their lives. According to the researchers they typically live out their lives “singing, eating joyfully and living in peace with themselves and with the environment”.
To many of us this sounds like an impossible dream. But is it really? Even though many facets of our world are far removed from this picture, there is at least one wonderful component that we have in common with these privileged communities: our children start off just as innocent and playful as theirs and they have just as much to offer us. The only difference is how we guide them and how we allow them to impact our lives.
The lesson to take from this is that in life, truly, less is more. If we haven’t learnt this from other sources, let’s allow our children to teach us the practicals.
Regardless of your religious views, I believe the following words written by G.K. Chesterton, from his famous book Orthodoxy, apply to all of us:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Written by Lizette van Huyssteen
When we know better… we do better