08/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Secret to Joy? Let Yourself Be a Kid Again

Real quick -- think back to those activities you enjoyed as a kid. Can you remember? Maybe it was playing softball with friends in the backyard, exploring the woods, collecting dolls or beating your own personal record in a video game. Now ask yourself, are you still making time for those things? If you think you're too old or don't have time, I'm officially giving you permission to rediscover that wonderful childlike joy you once knew.

But aren't we supposed to grow up and put away childish things? Sure, we have to be responsible parents and adults, pay our bills and such. You really shouldn't have to ask whether to pay the rent or buy that new comic book. But if something brings you joy, why not incorporate it into your life? And I believe that we can start by looking back at those same activities we enjoyed as children.

As a kid, I loved spending the afternoon at the local natural science center, which was located less than a mile from my house. I remember gazing up at displays about the extinct passenger pigeon and the endangered buffalo, scrambling in and out of a giant model of the human mouth, debating which crystal or stone souvenir to buy, and wishing I could travel into space like an astronaut. Those visits have stayed with me, and they fed my curiosity and fostered within in me a sense of wonder that I hope I never lose.

So when I realized it was time to infuse my life with joy once again, I thought about those experiences. I now live in a different city, but there's a similar science center nearby. On my first visit, I remembered what it felt like to be a kid again, in awe of the world around me. That's sweet, you say, but how can we carry that over into the adult world? Easy -- I now volunteer at the science center. I've done everything from greet visitors at the front door to help exhibitors set up for special events. Eventually, I plan to get training to work with the live reptiles, birds and other animals.

Maybe you're not into volunteering. That's fine. Find a softball team at your church or office, and get back to something that brings you joy. Find a type of doll that catches your eye and start collecting. Set aside a night for your favorite video game. Just one warning: Don't turn this into a career or a competition! Your softball team doesn't have to win every game, you don't have to compete with Marie Osmond's doll business and you don't have to turn into Lance Armstrong just because you ride a bicycle. As kids, we did these things simply because they were fun, but as adults we tend to go overboard. The goal here is joy -- not perfection or achievement.

When I volunteer at the science center, it thrills me to hear little kids squeal with delight at the towering dinosaur models or hear them laugh at the antics of a meerkat or a gibbon. I volunteer because I want to support the science center and help ensure that those kids have a place to develop their own sense of joy and wonder. But mostly I do it to recover and nurture those qualities in myself.

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