Last weekend my brother and I spent some time in Pennsylvania helping our parents empty some things out of the house in which they’ve lived for 35 years.
At one point, I came across a set of small wooden, colored blocks with the alphabet spelled out on them. They’d belonged to my dad when he was a child. My brother and I had played with them, too, growing up, so I set them aside in a box full of things we wanted to keep.
A couple hours later we were all taking a break on the back porch.
Dad: Did you come across those old wooden blocks of mine?
Me: Yes, I put them in a box of things I’m taking back to my house.
Dad: Let me see those first; I might like to sell them.
Mom: We shouldn’t sell those! Let’s keep them in the family.
Brother: I agree with that. Let’s hang onto them.
Dad: But they’re my blocks!
Me: I’m going inside to eat some potato chips. Y’all sort this out and let me know.
Eventually, I retrieved the blocks from my car, and my dad eagerly dug them out of the box. “I just spelled “CAT,” he exclaimed a minute or two later.
I could hardly mock him. My brother and I had already spent at least half an hour admiring our old Millennium Falcon, TIE-Fighter and X-Wing Fighter from our Star Wars heyday. They’d been stuffed away in the basement for the better part of three decades. Rediscovering them instantly took us back to our own childhoods. That’s a place where we should all spend a little more of our time – and there are at least two good reasons why.
First, it’s fun.
True, even my own kids are older now than my brother and I were when these toys showed up in our house as Christmas or birthday presents in the late 1970s. But there’s a kind of pure joy and wonder – a feeling we don’t experience enough as adults – that comes from seeing something that reminds you of long-ago good times. It’s not just nostalgia. It’s a lightning bolt reminder of where you came from, a throw-back to days when you didn’t take yourself and your problems quite so seriously.
Second, and even better, reflecting on what enthralled us as kids can help us lead a more meaningful life right now.
Obviously, you don’t want to ever put too much stock in the whims of children, whose interests can change ten times in the course of an hour. But the things we were drawn to deeply in our youth can be highly accurate markers of what we are meant to do with our lives. We all know people who liked to draw and became architects, or kids who liked to take things apart and became engineers, or hawked candy on the playground and went into sales.
It’s worth asking ourselves some basic questions, no matter how old we are today: What did I like most about being a kid? What were my dreams? What happened to them?
This is a simple technique that can yield some worthwhile and surprising insights. It might just get us thinking about what matters to us most, from an entirely different angle.
And while you’re working on that, I’ll be setting up my Han Solo action figure in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Or maybe playing with my dad’s blocks. He decided to keep them for himself.