12 lessons in happiness you can learn from laughing babies
My job is to study baby laughter. (Yes, really!) I want to understand how babies cope with life. Arriving totally unprepared in a completely alien world is overwhelming. If you couldn’t laugh, you’d cry. And true enough babies do cry a lot. But they also laugh far more than we do and this is under-appreciated.
At some level, those laughs are signs of triumph. In a few short years babies teach themselves a huge range of incredible skills. But babies’ laughs and happiness are also about their connections with their loved ones. That’s why I started studying baby laughter and I think there are plenty of lessons there for all of us.
- Babies wake up happy. I’ve no idea why but they do. Last summer I went to Brazil to work with Pampers. We learned to our surprise that babies almost always start their day in good mood. Since I’ve discovered this I try to start my own day cheerfully, it seems to help. But I probably don’t need tell this to the Morning Glory crew.
- Babies give everything a go. Eleanor Roosevelt recommended doing one thing every day that scares you. Babies might seem like little scaredy kittens but they’re driven by incredible curiosity. They delight in learning new things. If you are a baby, every new day brings a new skill to master. And each success brings great happiness.
- Challenge yourself. If you are not a baby, finding new challenges can be more… challenging. But it will be worth it. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied remarkably happy people from all walks of life and discovered that this was their secret.
- A person’s a person no matter how small. I recently helped Sarah Argent and Polka Theatre make a play about baby science for an audience of babies. We only managed to do this by treating them as little people. Being condescending does not work with babies, so it’s not going to work on anyone bigger.
- Babies give everyone a chance. A baby can melt any heart. Londoners will all have been there. You are on a bus with an irredeemably grumpy old man But then he starts pulling silly faces at a baby that’s peering at him over mum’s shoulder. That baby accepted him and that’s all it took.
- Music is magic. I spent the summer in Goldsmiths Infantlab helping Imogen Heap create music scientifically designed to make babies happy. We think we succeeded. Find a baby and play them the Happy Song and see if they agree.
- Hugs are drugs — A simple hug can make things better. It is doing so at a chemical level. Touch is our first sense to develop and the power of a mother’s touch to regulate stress has deep evolutionary roots.
- Consent matters — The best way to make a baby laugh is tickling but it’s only works if the baby trusts you and you have the baby’s permission.
- Connect — After tickles, peekaboo is the other universal game we play with babies. It is all about human connection. You have really tune into the baby to make the game work. And when you do you are rewarded with their delight.
- Really connect. They are pleased because you took time to interact with them. This lets them learn from you. And you will feel the intensity of their gaze. That is why the best way to make a baby laugh is to take her seriously.
- Live, love, laugh. Everyone loves babies and babies love everyone. Laughter and happiness are best when shared. We laugh with our friends. The bond between baby and parent is the best friendship there is and that’s why babies and parents laugh more than the rest of us. But everyone can improve their happiness by improving their relationships.
- Be present — Babies are little zen masters. Babies laugh more than us because they are constantly stopping to look around. They are never in a such a rush to get somewhere else that they miss the magic of right now.When you are happy make the most of it. Enjoy life, you will be glad you did.
Dr Caspar Addyman
Goldsmiths, University of London
For more like this, please look out for my book The Laughing Baby. It is being crowdfunded by Unbound Books. So it needs your support to make it a reality. Please pre-order your copy or tell your friends with babies