Toddler’s infectious joy a lesson in how to find happiness

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Often, when I hear the word happiness, I meet it at an edge. I don’t regard myself as an unhappy person, but I think a combination of a pious youth that warned against ‘happy clappy’ theology and an adulthood spent warding off false marketing claims, has formed me into a kind of nonbeliever – in happiness. This doesn’t mean I haven’t inhabited joy and laughter. But happiness as a state has always seemed like a false promise to me, or an unworthy aim.

My grandson is not yet two; it wasn’t until my recent birthday that I heard him, for the first time, say the word ‘happy’. He pronounces it in two-parts – “Hap-py”, while raising his hands, clapping the heels of his palms together. He is the child of extroverted parents who delight in hospitality and celebration. This pleasure is reflected in his full-bodied enactments – rock star welcomes, hand clapping good cheer and romping-stomping dances.

A child’s pleasure is reflected in his full-bodied enactments – rock star welcomes, hand clapping good cheer and romping-stomping dances.Credit: iStock

On the morning of my birthday he was witness to the ritual of gift giving. He watched as I opened and read three cards from family near and far. Naturally, he helped tear the paper off gifts and marvelled at the big reveals.

Afterwards, when the birthday cards sat on the table by my bed, the little fellow made regular visits to view them. Taking them in turn, he held them close with both hands. After a long look, he bowed his head and gave a little kiss to the front of each card.

There was love written into those cards; each was from close family. One was a handmade piece of art from my far-away daughter. He always picked this card up first. The ritual felt like an act of reverence for the tenderness he’d witnessed.

There is something wildly beautiful about being happy in the world. It’s often met by numerous impediments, but my grandson has re-awakened me to the invitations to see the love woven through each day – to be excited at seeing a bird, to pay full-bodied attention to arrivals and revelations.

The wee boy’s happiness is necessarily short-lived, interspersed with shouts of loud protest. The world does not always go according to his satisfaction. But even so, I have found, in the company of this small human, there is much to be hap-py about.

To me, these are the true praise-songs. Spontaneously enacted thanksgiving for the care the world offers us and the care we offer one another. In this the Creator, the Great Spirit, is indeed praised.

As Matthew’s Gospel quotes Jesus, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have perfected praise”.

Julie Perrin is a Melbourne writer and the author of Tender and A prayer, a plea, a bird, published by MediaCom Education.

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