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posted: 8/14/2014 11:07 AM

Don't let go of your childlike wonder

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My oldest daughter once bore a striking resemblance to Curly (as in "The Three Stooges").

She won't be offended by my revealing this. In fact, she laughs as hard as I do when we sit together and look at old photos. And it's not just that she looked like Curly. She also seems to have that same sense of joy, wonder, of excitement that makes the Curly character so lovable to Stooges fans.

Child psychologists suggest we all start out with such an attitude toward life. Children are just plain excited about being. And not just very young children. Even school-age children can exhibit that sense of anticipation and appreciation for the world around them.

Sooner or later, though, much of this attitude toward existence is lost. Sometimes it is a result of parents, teachers and other adults who do not know how to both encourage such joy and wonder and keep it within age-appropriate boundaries.

Sometimes it is lost as a result of illness, accident, loss, or other trauma that makes the world a frightening place to be feared rather than enjoyed.

Sometimes I wonder, though. Is it lost or just misplaced? Did we somehow only lose track of it as we learned how to be adults? Or maybe we put it away with our other childhood beliefs and attitudes, convinced that it was too childish, too naive, to be of any use in the "real world."

Or maybe we hid it away to protect it from further harm. We still might let ourselves enjoy life, but we do so only in the safety of our own inner selves.

You know, I think one reason we find small children, or childlike adults such as Curly, so attractive is that we recognize in them the wonder at life which we too often have lost, misplaced, given up or hidden away.

Often, we even add the word "childlike" as a preface to such words as joy, wonder or excitement. Yet, perhaps they are a part of our childhood that we ought not to lose track of, grow out of, or keep hidden. Wouldn't it be better if we could all more often wake up with a sense of anticipation for the day ahead?

How do we recapture or release such an attitude toward life? I suspect it comes down to a choice more than anything else. We have to choose to believe that, despite all the disappointment, pain and suffering we experience, life is basically good. We need to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that all days offer some potential to find satisfaction, meaning and fulfillment.

That's what a 7-month-old believes. Or a character like Curly. It may be childlike, but it is certainly not childish. Such an attitude, in fact, may be absolutely necessary to any kind of worthwhile adult life.

• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaritan Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."

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