Before a child is able to walk and talk, he learns to communicate with those around him. He learns that when he cries, someone picks him up. And he develops a different cry for each need: “I’m hungry”, “I need a diaper change” and “I need to be held”. But babies also learn early on that giggles and coos get smiles and attention. When they are held, loved, snuggled and kissed, they often smile and coo back. These smiles and sounds are their simple form of communication.

As the months go on, babies get a bit more independent. They smile and laugh and then laugh some more once they see the reaction their happy sounds bring. Babies grow into toddlers and they learn more about the world around them, navigating not only through touch and sound, but now through movement. Discovering new things opens new horizons, and simple games like “peek-a-boo” can have a toddler laughing uncontrollably. And chances are, when others hear that sweet sound, they’ll join in and laugh, too.

Have you ever really listened to a young child laugh? The sound is different than an adult’s laugh. It’s free-spirited, playful, and has no reservations. Children laugh without warning and without worrying what reaction their giggle might bring about in others.

As we go through life, we become more and more aware of those around us. We get sucked into responsibilities and jobs, and meld ourselves to fit the roles that we are assigned. College students know that they cannot laugh while a teacher is giving directions, just as an adult would never burst into a guffaw while his boss is presenting the latest budget proposal.

But children are free. They run and play. They fall and get up. And they make new friends without thinking of the repercussions: Is this person similar to me? Am I ever going to see him or her again? These things rarely matter to young children. Why? They live in the moment. When it is playtime, they take full advantage of the time they are given. They jump in puddles, zip down slides, pick “flowers” (which are actually beautiful weeds) and laugh without reservation on their own or with whomever is around to hear.

Children are great teachers. They teach us to be fearless, to wander and discover, to befriend those around us, and to not let worry get in the way of happiness. After all, getting dirty isn’t the end of the world: Clothes can be washed. Faces and hands can be scrubbed. And why worry about what others think of you if are happy and having fun?

So take the opportunity to learn from some of life’s greatest teachers. Be free. Live in the moment. Learn to take on less and let go more. And above all, laugh. It keeps you eternally young.

Children, Mind, Body, Spirit

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