How to Tap Into the Joy of Childhood Summer as a Grown-Up
As busy, anxious adults, is it possible to relive those carefree days?
Summer as an adult is not quite like summer as a kid. I spent part of my summer days on chores, but mostly, I sat around and watched TV, read books, and hung out with friends. We’d splash around in the sprinklers. Or we’d go on long bike rides into the forest with some made-up goal in mind — let’s find a haunted house! — only as a pretense to have an adventure. We were along for the ride. Even then, I realized this time was limited. I remember propping up my tan legs on the old box TV in front of a Charles In Charge rerun and thinking, “This is the life.”
A few years later, I entered the working world. Then I went to college, then I started a career. And summer vacations would never be the same. Sure, I take time off and travel the world — which brings its own kind of joy — but there’s something different about the carefree, go-nowhere-and-do-nothing summer vibe of childhood. Back then, without a car or money, there wasn’t much you could do but live in the moment.
I look for ways to recreate that feeling as an adult. It’s a playful feeling. When I interviewed positive play coach Jeff Harry, he defined play as something you do that brings you joy and also doesn’t have a bottom line. “A lot of us do everything hoping for a result,” he explained. “It’s always, ‘What am I getting out of this?’ Play has no result.”
When I think about it, even my vacations have a result. When I plan a trip, I’m so attached to it being “the best trip ever” that I plan every detail, schedule every excursion. I make an itinerary that I send to friends, even though I know we won’t stick to it. To my credit, vacations are expensive! And time off is precious: You want to make the most of it, and that becomes the result. It also tends to suck the play and spontaneity out of everything. As a kid, the options were limited: I could watch TV, do my chores, talk on the phone, draw, go bike riding — that was it. There was a certain degree of freedom in the lack of choice. Without an infinite stream of activities to choose from or places to visit, I could enjoy each activity without worrying about what I was missing. I was not attached to a result.