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Back to Basics: 5 Childhood Cues For a Happier, Healthier You

By:  Leslie Bradshaw Jan 13, 2014
Elementary Happiness

Rewind to 2010: It was a landmark year for my professional life. I quit my 9-to-5 job to focus solely on the agency I co-founded when I was 24. During the three years that followed, I took the agency’s revenues from the tens of thousands into the millions, hired and cultivated a crazy-talented series of teams, and grew a star-studded client list with the likes of Nike, Google and NASA in our midst.

While we were rapidly growing and succeeding, I was doing so at the cost of my health and my happiness. I wasn’t sleeping, and I sure wasn’t exercising or eating right. Looking back at pictures from those years, I can see the profound unhappiness in my face. I was mentally and physically exhausted, and it was taking a toll on every relationship in my life, including the one with myself.

In 2012, I started making changes to get me back on the road to happiness. Placing stock in my emotional well-being positively impacted my life and has done more for my professional goals than any 46-hour work bender ever did (yup, that happened).

To aid my journey, I took some cues from the time in my life when I was most happy: childhood. While adult me could close a seven-figure deal, the childhood me had mastered self-fulfillment. She had a lot to teach me, and I wager the childhood version of you can, too.

1. Feeling Bad? Try Taking a Nap.

It’s astounding how resting and breathing can seemingly solve your problems within minutes. And yet when the pressure is on, we rarely do either. When I first began my quest to regain childhood joy, I slept 10 hours a night and repeated this every night for six months. I now aim for seven to nine hours and take naps when I know I’m going to be on the clock until the wee hours.

Don’t think you can manage to get more sleep than you already do? Consider that sleeping more might actually make you more productive. Winston Churchill took a nap every day during WWII. If he could swing some shut-eye, perhaps even becoming better because of it, so can you. If you still feel wired when you hit the sheets, utilizing natural candlelight, eye masks and earplugs, and shutting off all screens an hour before bed can help.

2. Get Serious About Your Diet.

Diet’s” Latin root is dies meaning day, which means the word has more to do with what you eat in a day than any sort of strange bedfellow usually paired with diet (e.g., crash, juice, low-carb, fat-free, paleo, etc.). There is no one-size-fits-all diet for everyone, but there are a few guidelines by which I now abide, including eating five junior-sized meals a day to keep my energy and metabolism steady. I’ve even reverted back to childhood levels of picky eating. Except in my adult version, picky eating means choosing high-protein and high-fiber foods. I also eat “smart” carbs like sweet potatoes, quinoa and steel-cut oats, and “smart” fats such as avocados and coconut.

3. Let’s Play.

As a longtime athlete and avid power lifter, it was troubling to gain a significant amount of weight during my hardworking 20s. In the time since my major life change, I’ve taken back my body. To borrow a phrase from fellow entrepreneur and friend Julie Fredrickson: rather than just renting my body (and treating it as a rental), I now own it (and treat it like I own it). Owners invest and remodel their assets, and I’ve upgraded the way I look and feel through high-intensity training and weightlifting. When labeling physical activity as play, we suggest that it’s fun. Incorporate team sports and classes into your routine. Take running tours of new cities you visit. Fitness can still be a game!

happiness pyramid

4. Like George the Monkey, It’s Time to Get Curious.

Ever hear the saying, “The day you stop learning is the day you stop living?” Dust off your curiosity and exercise your inquisitiveness. I started to approach the world with the scientific method: develop a hypothesis, experiment, and then record takeaways and conclusions. Measuring life’s experiences in this way has allowed me to look at life with fresh eyes.

5. Express Yo’self!

As children, we first learn to express ourselves through drawing. However, as soon as we learn to turn colorful shapes into words, most of us leave our crayons in the dust for keyboards and computers. While writing is a valuable form of self-expression, I’ve found that introducing markers, graph paper and visuals into my life has triggered new (or perhaps very old) parts of my brain, increasing information processing and creativity. Plus, it makes me really, really happy to do it. We can find joy and pride through childhood forms of expression.

We live in a time where we can work from wherever and whenever we choose. We have convenience items that supposedly save time and offer solutions to our busy lives. Except these new things actually complicate our lives more than simplify them. We work with the expectation that we’re always working because we can. Any time we have, we give away to work or to other people. Helpfulness is an excellent virtue, but we must also help ourselves, or else face death by a thousand meetings. Schedule a meeting with yourself. Block it off on your calendar. Commit to showing up on time.

To find happiness, we must change our behavior. Not through advancement, but by getting back to basics. Now, tag, you’re it.

Leslie Bradshaw is a passionate entrepreneur, social scientist and data-driven storyteller. In addition to serving as the chief operating officer of Guide, she is a Fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a regular contributor at Forbes. Previously, Leslie spent six years building one of the world’s top data visualization firms who counted Nike, Google, Samsung, Intel, NASA and C-SPAN as clients during her tenure. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she has been recognized by Fast Company as one of “The Most Creative People in Business” and by Inc. magazine as a “Top 30 Entrepreneur Under 30”.

Bradshaw is part of The Opener, an exclusive, invite-only contributor network that will bring the best food, culture, and innovation writing to the pages of Coca-Cola Journey.