3 ways to capture joy today

Today is World Smile Day. From where I sit, I can already hear you clicking off this page – after all, what on earth is there to smile about when we are stuck in this pandemic?! But, please bear with me for a minute.

You see, whilst it is completely understandable that many of us don’t feel like smiling right now, amid an abundance of negative stories about Covid restrictions, being apart from our loved ones, and going stir crazy under the pressure to adapt to ‘the new normal’, there is still plenty to smile about. I promise. But how do we find it?

Well, look no further than the children around you.

Children have this innate propensity for joy. It’s easy to dismiss that because children don’t have the responsibilities we have as adults, and without those burdens of course they’re happier, right? But it’s much more than that.

Our little ones take joy from all around them. Have you ever sat near a child on a train? They don’t sit there drowning out the world by listening to music or podcasts (which can be a really good source of joy, by the way, and a method to stay sane on the commute – no judgement here). Instead, their faces are pressed up against the window, eyes wide in fascination, as they take in every tree, building, and horse, along the journey.

Often what makes our children smile isn’t the ordinary, but the magic they see in the ordinary. Recently I watched as my nephew, Rupert (after whom this blog is named), sat captivated by a hoover – yes, a hoover! To me, it’s an unwelcome reminder of the need to do some housework. To him, at just 9 months old, it’s a contraption of wonder.

Conservationist, Rachel Carson, once wrote “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.”

Yet, who is to say that awe cannot be captured in children and reignited in adults? Of course, it can. Moreover, we can undergo that process together.

Here are three simple ways we’re doing that right now. Perhaps you want to give them a go with your little ones too.

1. Ask a child: “what makes you smile?”

We asked my niece, Annabelle (for whom The Penguin Party was originally written), this very question. Her response went like this…

When Daddy or Mummy collect her from nursery;
When Mummy plays with her in her Wendy house;
When she goes swimming with Daddy and when she uses the float to swim nearly all by herself;
When she dances on her own in the living room;
When she listens, sings and dances to songs at breakfast time with Daddy and Rupert.

Try asking a child what makes them smile. It brings mindfulness to what brings them joy, and reminds us of the awe and wonder all around us. See if you can resist the urge to smile at their answers. I dare you!

2. Take a walk in nature with your child

There’s always joy to be found in nature, especially when the changing seasons lay bare its magic. Remember autumn days when you were in school? Playing with conkers in the playground, the crunch of leaves on the ground, and the glisten of dew on the grass.

There’s a Virginia Creeper on a wall outside my childhood home. Each autumn its green leaves turn a vibrant red. The process is just beginning, and this week I sent my three sisters a photo of the changing colours. I received three excited responses. Why? After all, the changing of seasons happens every year, often with us barely noticing. Yet the sight of that Virginia Creeper turning colour takes my sisters and I immediately back to a happy childhood, the onset of autumn, and the excitement of Christmas around the corner.

Life gets busy and stressful and in adulthood we can forget to notice these little pieces of joy. But our children do notice. So why not take a walk with your child, taking this special time together to talk about the changes you can see all around you? Who knows, you might just create new reasons for them, and for you, to smile.

3. Make joy part of the daily schedule

In our book, The Penguin Party, there’s a quote that says “real joy often comes from the simple things in life.”

We often feel the need to go ‘all out’ to make our children’s experiences special. This is especially true for many parents who are worried about the impact the pandemic is having on their children, particularly with the extra time we are all spending at home.

Planning out our day and making sure it’s peppered with things that make our children smile is one way that we can seek happiness – for them and ourselves - every single day.

This could mean snuggling up to read a good book with your children, making the most of the free resources on this website to do some colouring in, or it could be a family sing-song whilst you’re making dinner. It can be whatever you wish!

And lastly, a reminder…

The Penguin Party teaches children that they are always deserving of happiness.

That applies to all children and all adults. So, give yourself a break from life’s stresses today, and do something that brings you and your little ones contentment.

You, and they, deserve it.