I’m 43 years old, never had children, and am successfully self-employed. Like most adults, I do my best to manage my finances, I have concerns about aging family members, and I occasionally worry about cranky washing machine spin cycles. And, well, I’m known to put cookies out for Santa every Christmas. I should note that my husband is the only other household member. We also attend holiday parades, where I anticipate the arrival of — and enthusiastically wave to — the man in the red suit. As for stockings, we’ve got those too; they’re hung by our cozy wood stove and include two for our cats, Oscar and Scooter.
Some people may roll their eyes and think, “Oh, grow up already.” After all, through the years, some have suggested that such actions should be reserved for kids. Still, I forge on.
So why do I do this around the holidays? The answer is easy. I believe that indulging in childlike excitement about Santa — or any holiday-related experience, for that matter — shouldn’t cease simply because we’re adults, or be set aside just for people who have children. If anything, especially in today’s drama-infused, increasingly violent world, believing in the magic of Santa — of the wonder, the sparkle of kindness in another person’s eyes, of laughter and giving — provides a hefty dose of comfort we all need.
And as it turns out, I’m also doing my mental health a favor.
According to Barbara Greenberg, an adolescent, child, and family psychologist with a private practice in Connecticut, “Maintaining a childlike excitement into adulthood is not only fun but it also contributes to the ability to enjoy life and be resilient.” She explains that adults who get bogged down in all things serious could potentially develop some health challenges, including anxiety and depression.
Aniesa Hanson, a licensed mental health counselor at Hanson Complete Wellness in Tampa, says that adults who embrace their inner child are allowing themselves to find relief amid life’s grown-up challenges. “As we age, we gradually become hardened by the world,” she says. “This hardening not only impacts how we handle situations, but it impacts our perception of the world.” Hanson explains that over time, this can take away from the “delight and awe of the world around us that we experienced in childhood.”
What she says next is music to my Frosty the Snowman-listening ears: “But who says it has to be this way? This loss, whether we know it or not, is why adults live vicariously through children’s wonderment, especially during Christmas time.”
My feelings exactly. Who says it has to be this way? Sure, Hanson warns of letting this exuberance get out of control: “Obviously, there’s a social line we don’t want to cross, such as wearing our Rudolph pajamas to work, but we do want to allow the sparkle of the holiday wash over us without feeling embarrassed.”
For me, this time of year gives us permission to lose ourselves in the splendor of memories, bittersweet as they may sometimes be. The holidays are one giant hug, drawing me nearer to comfort and further from conflict, if only for a moment.
Such childlike ways are often branded as “nonsense,” pointless acts. To that I say: Lighthearted nonsense is good for the soul and gives us a break from our worries. “After all, it is this sense of fun that keeps us feeling good, upbeat, and excited about life,” Greenberg emphasizes. “The ability to be silly, playful, and have fun should not be confused with immaturity.”
Plus, according to Hanson, engaging in these experiences bolsters brain development and contributes to creative growth.
So, less anxiety, increased levels of creativity, and maintaining a sense of fun and wonder.
I’ll take it.
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