I took a peek at the newest addition to our family, now seven weeks old, and there was one answer, at least. There’s no doubt that a baby who’s just finished a feed, has a clean nappy and warm bed, not to mention plenty of cuddles, is in heaven.
So what happens to us as we get older? Why do we lose that fabulous feeling of wellbeing, of contentment and of just being happy in our own skin?
I can’t help thinking that the things we tell ourselves and our children may have a lot to do with it. Have you listened to adults talking to children? So often our conversation is full of ‘don’t.’
Don’t pull the cat’s tail. Don’t run into the road. Don’t talk with your mouth full.
It goes on throughout our lives. We’re always talking about the things we can’t do and the sad truth is that if there’s one thing that makes me want to do something, it’s being told I can’t.
I went to our local pet shop the other day. There was a notice on the fish tanks.
Don’t bang on the glass. Now, it hadn’t occurred to me that I would want to bang on the glass. Why would I? But when I read that, I could barely contain myself. Would it really hurt the fish? How about just a tiny tap? No-one would notice, after all.
Then I saw another notice, next to a pile of bags full of gravel.
Don’t climb on the gravel. I’m sure you get the picture. I suddenly knew exactly how it felt to be a child again, tantalised by suggestions of things I mustn’t do. I had to leave before I disgraced myself.
Telling us not to do things so often has the opposite effect. It can even be dangerous. Remember that classic instruction to anyone dangling at the end of a rope halfway up a cliff face: Don’t look down?
Wouldn’t it be great to turn all those negatives into positives? It’s not hard to do. We could change,
Don’t pull the cat’s tail into stroke his head gently. Don’t run into the road, could be see if you can keep inside the lines on the pavement. And don’t look down could be (much safer) look up to see how close the next handhold is.
So I’m setting myself a challenge today. No more negatives: only positives. I will avoid the words don’t at all costs.
I will tell my son to drive safely. I will point out to a child how much he will enjoy talking very, very quietly and I will tell myself to remember to buy the milk.
Perhaps you could join me in the challenge? Maybe when we get into the habit of being positive, we’ll find again some of that contentment we knew when we were babies. Even more importantly, maybe our happy talk will help our children to grow up to be happier people.
If you’d like to know more about happiness and communication, please visit http://www.speechcontacts.co.uk or join my new Facebook group, Happy Talk.
I write this Communication Blog
Frances Evesham: on the run around Europe for years, with only a husband, three children and a succession of opinionated cats to keep me out of trouble. Somerset stopped me in my tracks. Now I walk in the country and breathe sea air. I will get around to cleaning the house soon.
I've been a speech therapist, a professional communication fiend and a road sweeper. I sometimes work in the criminal courts to uphold fair questioning of people with special needs.
I smell the roses, lavender and rosemary as I cook with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other. Writing historical romances and books on communication leaves enough time to enjoy bad jokes and puns and wish I’d kept on with the piano lessons.