Remember when you were a child and everything around you was novel and beautiful, and filled you with a sense of awe? Unfortunately, the demands of our lives -- work, relationships, money, health concerns -- cause all of us to gradually lose that sense of wonder. But that's not to say it's lost forever; here are eight simple ways to get it back:
1. Put yourself in unfamiliar situations.
The brains of babies and toddlers are "plastic," explains Alison Gopnik, author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life and a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. That means they're constantly making new connections, and lots of them. "The evidence, nowadays, is that there's potential for that even in old age," she says. "Probably not as much as in childhood, but doing new things -- exposing yourself to new activities -- can actually induce plasticity [in the brain]."
The key is to try things that are really and truly new to you. Learn a language, try an instrument you've always wanted to play or hit the road. "Traveling to a new place, you become less competent," Gopnik says. "You can't order from the menu, you might get lost ... the result from that is you feel like you're getting all this new information all at once, in the kind of way that children [always] get new information all at once."
2. Embrace "explore" learning, not "exploit" learning.
"As adults, we tend to focus on learning to solve problems we need to solve now," Gopnik says. "Babies and youngsters don't have problems they need to solve now, so their energy seems to be focused on exploring different possibilities." And therein lies the difference between "explore" learning (which is learning for the sake of learning) and "exploit" learning (learning with a clear end-goal or purpose). Trying new things simply for the sake of trying new things forces you to think in different ways.
3. Pick up a creative hobby.
It's hard to feel curious and carefree when you spend most of your time on work, errands and household tasks. That's why it's important to schedule in even just a few moments a day to engage in an activity that you find creatively stimulating.
"When we ignite more creative experiences in our life, we channel our inner child," says Gabrielle Bernstein, author of Miracles Now and a HuffPost blogger. "Creativity offers us freedom to be ourselves and let loose!"
4. Look up.
There's a big world around you, but it's all too easy to get tunnel vision as you rush from one activity to the next. Don't. "As I've grown older, I forget to look up at the sky. I walk through life staring at my phone screen, rushing to the next event and therefore, missing out on life," Bernstein says. Take a cue from kids, who are pros at relishing their surroundings, and pause sporadically to check out everything happening around you.
5. Spend time with kids.
"I have a two-and-a-half year old grandson now, and spending a day with him is to realize how much richness there is [in the world]," Gopnik says. Of course there are times when, as a caretaker, you've simply got to get your kid dressed and out the door. But when time allows you to "slow down and enjoy the zen of being with children," embrace the opportunity, Gopnik urges.
"Count up how many experiments a 2- or 3- or 4-year-old does in the space of five minutes," she says. "If I could do that [much exploring] in a year, I would feel like a really good scientist!"
6. Do one thing mindfully, every day ...
Mindfulness helps you be truly in the moment, says New Jersey-based psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps, and that's one of the things adults appreciate in young children: "They are fully engaged in their experience, open to what it has to offer." Or, as Bernstein puts it: "Children are not worried about the past or the future. In the present moment, you can truly experience life."
It doesn't need to be anything too time-consuming or formal. "Bring your attention to your breath for a few breaths. Walk a short distance with attention to how your body -- the bottoms of your feet, your legs -- feel as you step. Chop one carrot with full attention to how the knife feels in your hand and to the motion of cutting," Becker-Phelps suggests.
7. ... And one thing every day "just because."
Dance. Watch that TV show you've been waiting to see. Meet up with a friend. Kids are forever doing things simply because they want to. Follow their lead and do something every single day for "no good reason beyond you wanting to do it," Becker-Phelps says. "Connect with your desire to explore and have certain experiences."
8. Jot down the good stuff.
Kids are thrilled (thrilled!) by the small things that happen to them, and they remember them for days -- talking to their parents at night about how much fun they had at the park, or that really, really funny thing someone said at school. It pays to remind yourself of all of the good stuff that happens day-to-day. "Each night, write down three things that were a blessing for you to experience during the day," Becker-Phelps suggests. "It can be as big as a graduation or as seemingly small as having seen a butterfly flit around a flower."