by Lloyd Den Boer
If you have young children in your life, you know how transparent their moods can be. Travelling hallways as an elementary school principal, now and then I would meet a Grade 1 student on his or her way back to class from a washroom. Some students acknowledged me shyly, but the ones who did not were often more interesting. Too absorbed to notice, these students dashed past me, eager to rejoin their class. Stocking feet prancing, washed hands still wet and waving, they moved as quickly as they dared, sometimes finishing with a standing slide at their classroom door. Then, composing themselves to portray the calm that would please their teacher, they stepped into their classroom. As for me, I expanded with delight as I watched. A child eager to return to class is a precious thing; a child animated by joyful vitality is a pleasure to behold.
Adults can experience this sense of vitality, this feeling of vibrancy too. At times, we lose ourselves to a sense of joy during ordinary experiences, whether being in the presence of people we love, immersing ourselves in the outdoors, or concentrating on a treasured task. Nevertheless, most of us agree with the poet Wordsworth that some of our capacity for spontaneous, childlike vitality falls away as we advance into adulthood. More seriously, some of us experience bouts of sadness and lethargy which feel like joy’s opposite. Sometimes the circumstances that foster lethargy accumulate as, growing older, we sense that our powers and opportunities are narrowing. Moreover, after more than a year of pandemic life, who could deny that pent-up desire for a more vibrant living has only grown?
Recommendations for more vibrant living abound. Most of them enlarge our feeling of being full of energy and life by improving our ordinary life patterns. We can choose to promote our physical health through rest and exercise. We can manage the stressors in our lives, avoiding the burden of feeling overwhelmed. We can reach out to others, expanding rather than contracting the pleasure that social contacts provide. We can plan, experiencing a greater sense of control over the aspects of our lives that are ours to shape. We can adapt our negative thought patterns, learning to accept change, see bigger pictures, and interpret our own behaviour and the behaviour of others in more balanced ways.
These recommendations, and more besides, will improve our wellness and build a foundation for vibrant life. We should take them seriously. On the other hand, are they sufficient to produce an adult version of the vitality we see in children? Most of these recommendations focus our attention on ourselves. We are advised to notice and assess our daily lives, identifying and changing the patterns that undermine vitality. By contrast, the spark in a child that catches an adult eye most often comes from the child’s interest in matters beyond him or herself.
What motivations take us beyond ourselves, igniting adult versions of the vitality that we often see in children? Among many possibilities, two come to mind readily — curiosity and kindness. The Grade 1 teacher who inspired madcap dashes back to class displayed both. Each morning, she greeted each child with animated questions and responses. The students’ demeanours showed how fully each one felt seen and heard. This teacher was doing more than practising curiosity and kindness as a teacherly tool. Practising curiosity and kindness made her vibrant because being curious and kind was who she was.
Lloyd Den Boer is a recently retired educator. He and his wife live in Edmonton where they are impatiently awaiting the resumption of grandkid sleepovers.