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What would really make you happy? More money, more fulfilling work, more time to spend with your loved ones? All good, but have you considered a box of raisins, a few episodes of Bluey and a nap? That’s what Dr Hasan Merali is suggesting (well, sort of). He’s the author of Sleep Well, Take Risks, Squish the Peas: Secrets from the Science of Toddlers for a Happier, More Successful Way of Life and man, am I torn by his thesis that the toddler life philosophy offers valuable adult wellbeing lessons.

There is plenty to admire in the toddler Weltanschauung. In a New York Times article on his book, Merali highlights their talent for positive self-talk and insatiably asking questions. So many questions (up to 107 an hour, according to a study he quotes), from “Why?” until your brain liquefies to frank curiosity about a stranger’s nasal hair. But it’s true, there is value in a candid lack of embarrassment: a high-powered scientist I talked to recently said that her seniority let her shamelessly ask “basic” questions that often advanced her research; mostly, we lose that.

Merali also points out that toddlers move “joyfully and instinctively” for up to five hours a day. This is vastly easier when you don’t have to sit at a desk to pay for Ella’s Kitchen pouches and Duplo or get stabbing shoulder pains simply by putting your socks on. (Hang on: toddlers don’t put their own socks on either – another point in their favour.) I would add that they also move fearlessly: we once let my older son, then two, run ahead of us in the street, discreetly following to see how far he would get. The fiend never glanced back; we eventually had to intervene when he picked up and was poised to lick a grit-coated sweet he found in the gutter.

Toddlers also laugh six times as much as adults. I envy that unbridled joy, the kind you can only feel when you have never contemplated climate breakdown, global suffering, PMQs or renewing your home insurance. Toddlers are joyful because the world hasn’t crushed them yet; Merali’s suggestion that we “listen to a comedy podcast” to replicate that seems a bit optimistic.

Actually, what I envy most in toddlers is their clear and clearly communicated boundaries. My father often tells the story of a toddler he met who had learned just four words: “No”, “mine”, “more” and “biscuit” and was perfectly negotiating their world with that vocabulary. The greatest of these, of course, is “no”, which can be communicated physically as well as with words. When he did not wish to do something, our younger son would deploy a move seasoned parents know as the “ironing board”, becoming absolutely, unyieldingly rigid. Sometimes, he would mix it up with that other classic, “no bones”, transforming himself into a sinuous, impossible-to-wrangle puddle of passive resistance. I would definitely be happier if I dared refuse things bodily, toddler style, but I’m chicken and lack both the core strength and steely, tyrannical will.

Therein lies the problem with using toddlers as life inspiration. As any of us who have been “joyfully and instinctively” kicked in the shins can testify, toddlers are, well, a lot. Greg Pembroke’s blog Reasons My Son Is Crying (his cheese was broken; he didn’t like wrinkly knuckles) resonated because it is universal toddler behaviour: they are unfettered, anarchic id, lacking the ability to regulate their emotions and any grasp of logic, capable of terrorising an entire household (city?) if they don’t get their way.

I don’t think the world needs more of that energy. The UK was governed by a toddler recently, remember? A man without impulse control, common sense or any consideration for others, who an aide claimed needed constant nannying, had tantrums and had to be penned-in by a prime ministerial “puppy gate” when isolating. The US had a toddler-in-chief too, demanding an extra scoop of ice-cream, one more than guests, treated and talked about by staff like a fractious, erratic two-year-old. They might have one again. With that dreaded prospect looming, I would prefer adults to behave like adults, even if it means gracefully accepting broken cheese.

Emma Beddington is a Guardian columnist

#latest #advice #behave #toddler #secret #happiness #Emma #Beddington

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