My Sister Knew The Keys To A Good Life By The Age of Three

Unintentionally, but still

Small girl key to a good life
Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

In a home video that will remain forever etched in our family history, my younger sister KD (aged two at the time) recounts a bedtime story. It involves a girl (we’ll call her Mia) who makes friends with several animals in a forest.

At one point in her animated retelling of the tale, KD happily states that Mia is surrounded by a number of ‘birdies’. At this point my father asks her: “The birdies, were they small or big?”

KD, with the life-affirming eagerness of a young child who wants it all, asserts, “No! Small AND Big.”

It was an enlightened comment. Living a full life includes the small and the big. Delighting in small joys while keeping your eye on the big picture is kind of the secret to everything.

Small joys aren’t that small. The first bite of a ripe peach, a song that brings back memories, your friend’s belly laughter — these can bring with them a surprising amount of happiness.

Keeping your eye on the big picture is about loosening your hold on many of the things you constantly worry about (the weird comment your boss made, the annoying scratch on your car or the rain that caught you out on a walk). It involves stepping back to remember that they will make zero difference to your life in the long run. It’s also about shifting your gaze to what actually matters.

This brings us to the next lesson KD taught me.

Have you noticed that children are truly fascinated by seeing themselves on camera for the first time? They find it miraculous that two versions of them can exist at the same time.

As a child, KD was no exception. Around the age of three, she’d frequently plead for my Dad to flip around the screen on his Sony video camera (remember when cameras had screens that did this?). She was enthralled by seeing herself on it. A large portion of videos from that stage of her life consist of her excitedly clamouring, “Turn it around! Turn it around!”

It was also good advice for life.

The opportunity to transform problematic circumstances into opportunities is always available. The appointment your client cancelled becomes a chance to finally call your Mom. The hoisin sauce you fail to find at the store causes you try katsu curry instead (and discover that it’s delicious). The global pandemic that forces you to stay indoors gives you a good excuse to forgo the large family dinners you find uncomfortable. Ok, that last one’s a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea.

The happiest people I know choose to take the lemons life hands them and skillfully incorporate them into a series of recipes that Gordon Ramsay would be proud of. With a little practice, any of us could learn to do this too. All it takes is the realisation that you almost always have the power to make life a little more interesting and enjoyable, no matter what your situation. KD the child sage brought this to my attention as part of the third and best lesson she taught.

On a cold Christmas Eve over twenty years ago, as she entered my Uncle and Aunt’s home for our family dinner, KD sat down to take off her tiny smart shoes, helped by my mother (laces are an arduous task for a 3-year old). She then proceeded to belt out a Christmas carol at the top of her lungs, uncaring of her lack of pitch or the fragility of other people’s eardrums. She even drew a complete blank at one point, forgetting an entire verse and clearly realising this, but it didn’t bother her. She just went on with the next one.

Singing out loud, dancing with abandon and making time to laugh with people you love are all at the heart of a good life. These things become disturbingly infrequent in adulthood. It’s only natural: your growing responsibilities get the better of you and you may not consider literally shaking it off with Taylor Swift to be a worthy 5-minute addition to your daily schedule (you really should). Yet, you might feel like singing, dancing and laughing more often if you lean into the small joys, remember the big picture and learn to reshape difficult situations into meaningful ones.

As we grow up, we think that we’ve left our childhood selves behind, except we haven’t, not really. The three-year old version of us remains inside us, hoping against hope that we’ll remember what it needs.

The chance to appreciate everyday wonders. The perspective to stop molehills becoming mountains. The creativity to spot beauty even in the midst of challenge.

And perhaps most of all, the wisdom to infuse some fun into every single day.

As a child, KD knew how important these things were. She made them a big part of her life. There’s no reason we shouldn’t slip off our own party shoes, sing at the top of our lungs and walk in her tiny footsteps once in a while.

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