Life's too short to waste it in an endless mire of low-level anxiety.
Growing up, the happiness we took for granted as children gets overshadowed by adult worries, from money to mortgages and thinking too much about everything.
At the same time, we demand more in the name of having fun. Stomping in puddles or writing to a pen pal lose the appeal they once held, and instead we want the big moments; the expensive holiday, the perfect proposal, the house with the French doors and garden.
And the irony is, our demands - some material, others out of our control (wanting children, for instance) - hold us captive to a happiness that is forever elusive. Instead, in our endless quest, we become governed by feelings of exhaustion and inadequacy.
We need to reclaim that sense of impulsive pleasure that went hand-in-hand with childhood. Here are five simple ways to have more fun and enjoy life, without the requisite fireworks of angst and entitlement:
Wonder at the small things
American writer Kurt Vonnegut once declared, "Enjoy the little things in life because one day you'll look back and realize they were the big things". Life is full of moments of beauty, kindness and triumph that we usually fail to notice because we're so wrapped up in our own concerns.
Think of your average morning routine. It's not the happiest time on the face of it but for every person that shoves past you, there's someone else who holds the lift door open. That pinkish morning sky you can glimpse from the 68 bus is enough to send your spirits soaring (albeit temporarily), as is the first whiff of freshly-blended coffee or the colleague who complements you on your new coat.
"We’re often bombarded with messages that admonish us: 'think big,' 'go for the gold,' 'climb the ladder of success,'" says psychologist Dr. Linda Sapadin. "[But] if you neglect to enjoy these little things, what are you left with? It’s the daily struggles, the disappointments and the disasters that plop on our doorsteps when we least expect it. Each day, pay attention to at least one or two moments that worked out well for you."
Embrace purposeless play
As adults, we tend to dismiss all but competitive forms of play. But psychologists have found that the art of traditional play - being silly, losing yourself in the moment and engaging in something pointless but pleasurable - is vital to fostering relationships and maintaining a sense of well-being.
"Play is something done for its own sake," says psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the US non-profit the National Institute of Play. "It's voluntary, it's pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome."
He compares it to oxygen, in that "... it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing".
"What you begin to see when there's major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they're not much fun to be around," he explains. "You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious."
The takeaway message? Embrace every opportunity to be playful and silly, just for the sake of it. Remind yourself of the games you enjoyed as a child and work out how you can re-create those experiences (a process known as "taking a play history"), surround yourself with playful people and introduce forms of play - such as pillow fights or reading aloud to someone - into your daily life.
Don't strive for perfection
Logically, we know that perfection is a myth and yet that doesn't stop us striving for it. We hold ourselves up to impossible standards, trying to be funnier, younger-looking, smarter and fitter, with a flawless work ethic to boot.
Not only is this quest exhausting, it can also fuel an obsession that borders on neuroticism; because we decide what constitutes "perfect", we can constantly move the goal posts.
"Obsession is always a fixation - a freezing-over of the personality so that it becomes not a living being but something fixed, like a piece of sculpture, locked into a complex," says Marion Woodman, author of Addiction To Perfection. "To move toward perfection is to move out of life, or what is worse, never to enter it."
Banish perfection from your mind and life and instead accept that the bad comes with the good, and whatever you do is good enough. Charity founder Kate Gross, who blogged about her battle with colon cancer, wrote this post about embracing the irritations of her last Christmas (an event, it turned out, she never got to see):
"The Christmas idyll is never an idyll, for any of us. So my promise this year is to enjoy all of it. These days that lead up to it, not just the main event. The grumpiness, anger and frustration with my best beloveds that are a reminder that I am alive and red blood still pumps through my veins. I am pale imitation of the energetic parent I once was, but there is still pleasure to be gained from Christmas as a spectator sport. Though my Christmases past are blissful memories, I do not need to live there. The present is no idyll, but it’s what we have. And I intend to enjoy it. May you all do the same."
Go with the flow
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly coined the term "flow" to explain a peak moment of consciousness when we are so engaged in what we are doing, we lose all sense of time amid a state of deep enjoyment and satisfaction.
"You may know this state by other names: runner’s high, being in the zone, being unconscious, being in the pocket, the forever box - and on and on. The lingo is endless," says author and journalist Steven Kotler. "The experience unforgettable.
"In flow, our attention is so laser-focused that all else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Times flies. Self vanishes. And all aspects of performance go through the roof."
The key to this act is simple: chose something you really love doing but that is also a challenge, whether that's creating pottery, training for a marathon or learning to play the piano.
Set yourself a goal, give yourself a clear space of time without any interruptions to achieve it in, and focus on the enjoyment of the process. All this can achieve a state of flow which has been linked to greater self-esteem, confidence, happiness and life satisfaction.
Live in the present - don't overthink
By the time we're adults, we've accrued life experience and a past that acts as a barrier between us and a carefree childhood.
Because of this, we've a much stronger tendency to over-think things and worry about either what has happened, or what might.
"It’s not until you are older and full of regrets, unwanted memories and painful experiences that you realize your greatest enemy is your mind and it’s ability to conjure up the past. Why is it that when you’re alone, usually in the darkest hours of your restlessness, that your mind decides to wander to those untouched corners?" says Lauren Martin, wellness writer for EliteDaily.com.
"Well, someone once told me in a state of my own sorrow and agony that, 'the only thing that makes it a thing is that you keep thinking about it'. It was a simple phrase, one that doesn’t seem to have much weight to it, but it changed everything for me."
Over-thinking stops you from enjoying the present and keeps you stuck in a particular problem until you stop thinking about it. You forget about the here and now, because you become consumed by your thoughts, which only gets worse the longer you dwell on them. It's a process that leads to anger, indecision and self-doubt in the face of the negative future state your mind has concocted.
"When you break up with over-thinking it's like writing your own 'get out of jail free' card," says life coach Peggy Nolan. "It doesn't cost you anything to end your relationship with the drama inside your head. You can decide to focus on things in the present that are deserving of your time and attention whenever you choose. The here and now is calling... will you answer?"
Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Rex Features and Getty Images