The Pursuit of Childhood Joy

What did you enjoy doing as a child?

As a hyperactive kid in Michigan, most of my fondest memories involve outdoor activities.  Swimming, riding my bike, hiking through the nearby woods, exploring the lake at our summer cabin in my small fishing boat, camping with the family, etc. 

Ah, childhood.  The life of Freedom.

Take a minute and think back.  What activity from your childhood comes to mind?

There’s a reason I’m asking.  A reason I discovered while walking our dogs in the woods last evening.  That childhood activity that you just thought of may actually help you to enjoy a better life.  

The pursuit of childhood joy may be just the secret you needed to make the most of your retirement.
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finding joy from your childhood

The Pursuit of Childhood Joy

Last week, my wife and I enjoyed a challenging kayaking trip with a reader of this blog and his wife.  It was on the Hiawassee River, just across the North Carolina border.  The water was running fast, and the Class II rapids were enough to get the adrenaline flowing (and, this writer wet when he failed to negotiate one particularly gnarly stretch in his fishing kayak and ended up with an unexpected swim through the rapids). 

I’ve always loved being on the water.

A few days ago, I enjoyed a marvelous early morning swim in our nearby Lake Blue Ridge.  The water was glassy calm, and the fog was still burning off the surrounding mountains.  It was a lovely late summer swim, and I paused at the end of the swim to take in the view and realize how fortunate I am to be retired in such a beautiful place.

I’ve always loved swimming.

Last night, I was walking our dogs around the 1.3-mile trail in the woods behind our cabin.  It’s been a part of our daily routine in retirement, with a morning and evening hike through that wooded slice of heaven.  Down the main trail, across that ravine and over the creek, letting the dogs pause for a drink, then the climb up to the ridgeline for the nice views before we make that right turn that brings us back to the cabin.

I’ve always loved being in the woods.

As I was walking the dogs, I had a realization about all of the activities of the prior week, and how each of them was rooted in a joy from my childhood.  Without realizing it, my retirement has been filled with activities I once enjoyed as a child.  I’ve never been intentional in the pursuit of childhood joy, but it’s happened anyway.  My life is better as a result.

A thought struck me, and it led to the writing of this post.

What if we were intentional in the pursuit of childhood joy?  Could it be one of the tricks to living a more enjoyable life?  I believe so, and I encourage you to give it a try.

Try this hack to live a better life: Pursue something you loved in childhood.
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How To Implement The Pursuit of Childhood Joy

Think about that activity you remembered when I asked about it in the first sentence of today’s post.  When is the last time you did it?  If you are like me, there was likely a long pause between when you did that as a child and when/if you’ve done it as an adult.  We were all busy earning a living, and life got in the way.  Perhaps it’s time to change that.

Perhaps it’s time to implement The Pursuit of Childhood Joy.

Below are four examples of things I loved as a child, and how they evolved into activities I enjoy in retirement.  Think about that activity you remember, and see if you can apply any of the things I’ve learned in your pursuit of childhood joy.  

Open water swimming in Lake Blue Ridge, GA 

The Joy:  Swimming

I don’t remember learning how to swim.  It seems like it’s something I’ve just always known how to do. Kind of like walking, it’s just something I do without thinking about it.

In the years before I started school, my Mom would take me and my two sisters to the college pool every Sunday evening for “family swim” time.  She had been a lifeguard in college, and we all learned to swim while we were still toddlers.  In elementary school, we spent almost every day at the public beach, burning up energy in the water with friends.  In high school, I lived at the beach near our lake cabin with friends who lived nearby. 

As a child, I lived in the water.

And then, it stopped.

I don’t think I ever got in the water again until our daughter was born, and we were fortunate to have a house with a pool.  A 25+ year span without swimming just happened, and I never really thought about it.  With my daughter and a pool,  I rediscovered my love of swimming.  It’s been a part of my life ever since.  It’s a topic that’s been common fodder for this blog, as demonstrated below:

My life is better because I rediscovered my love of swimming.  In spite of a 25-year drought with no swimming, this pursuit of a childhood joy has resurrected a love of the water that I expect I’ll enjoy for years to come. 

If you enjoyed swimming as a child, what’s keeping you from getting back in the water?  Go for a swim!

Mountain biking with my friend, Todd

The Joy:  Riding A Bike

I still remember the day I got her.

I was walking up our sidewalk after school, and there she was.  A real beauty.  Green, with that cool-looking sissy bar sticking up above the back seat.  That banana seat.  A headlight!  I was 8 years old, and she was my first “real” bike, a gift from my Mom and Dad for my birthday.  I spent a lot of time on that bike.  My buddy, David, and I would build plywood ramps on the sideway and see who could get the most “air”.   BTW, if you’re interested in seeing that killer bike, and my childhood friend, David, check out the photo below, reconstructing a childhood photo taken 47 years earlier:

I loved that bike, and the memories we had together.  Winning the “longest wheely” contest, and riding with no hands.  That one summer day when she secretly stole me away on that adventure down the railroad tracks to visit my 5th-grade girlfriend, Debbie in the far-off town of Osseo.  I still can’t believe that lady I asked for directions actually knew my Mom and narc’d on me for riding so far away from home.  I got grounded for a week. 

And then, it stopped.

After college, I didn’t even own a bike for more than 20 years.  In my mid-40’s I bought a road bike and gave it a try for a few years, but I never became passionate about it (Lesson Learned:  Don’t hesitate to try new things.  If it doesn’t work out, move on to the next).  When I ended up living Alone in my City Apartment during my final 2 years of work, I bought a used hybrid bike to explore the many Atlanta parks within riding distance.  Without knowing it, a pursuit of childhood joy was unfolding.

I was hooked.

When I retired and moved up to the mountains, I sold the hybrid and bought a mountain bike. Exploring the many mountain biking trails in “our” mountains has brought joy to my life.  It’s also proven to be a great way to get in better shape.  Below are some articles I’ve written on my mountain biking experiences:

How long has that old bike been gathering dust in your garage?  Get it out, clean it up, and find the nearest RailsToTrails.  Go for a ride.  Experience the pursuit of childhood joy.

How about taking a Spin Class at your local gym?  I “Spin” three times each week, and it’s become my favorite workout.  We have a good time joking around in class, and we’ve all become friends.  Never tried it?  It’s time.

A Day Hike with a local hiking club.

The Joy:  A Love of the Woods

I’ve always loved being in the woods.

As a small boy, I spent countless hours exploring the woods a few blocks from home.  The woods ran for miles, starting just behind the college football field and stretching all the way around Winona Lake.  I knew every inch of those woods.  They were my home away from home.  In the winter, I’d strap on my cross-country skis and enjoy the white solitude.  In the summer, they were my playground.  Home to countless forts, the most ambitious of which included digging a 5′ deep X 10′ wide hole in the ground and covering it with branches for a roof.  I hope no one ever fell into that hole after we were done playing in it…

In college, I spent my summers working in Yellowstone and Glacier Bay National Park, doing my first serious backpacking in the wilderness of Wyoming and Alaska.  Since my wife and I have been married, we always seemed to find a way to hike when we were on vacation.  We still do.

When I retired, we intentionally chose a retirement cabin surrounded by woods, with miles of private trails to enjoy while walking our dogs.  I joined a local hiking club

Our retirement cabin, surrounded by the woods where today’s post was born.

There’s something magical about being in the woods.  I get a sense of serenity that is impossible to achieve anywhere else.  I’ve enjoyed the woods since childhood, and I’m enjoying them even more now, as demonstrated by the following articles:

When’s the last time you’ve been in the woods?  Get out there. 


Camping in Michigan with our 4 dogs.

The Joy:  Camping

I’ll never forget that rain.

It was a summer during elementary school, and the rain started as darkness fell.  My sisters and I were huddled in our tent with Mom and Dad, listening to what soon became a monsoon-like downpour.  The tent stood no chance.  Drenched after hours of soaking rain, we all dashed to the campground’s bathroom to spend the night on the floor.  My Dad and I hit the men’s room, and I never slept a wink.  It’s one of my strongest memories of camping as a child, the adventure of hiding in the men’s restroom all night with my Dad. 

  • Or that time my sister got lost in that campground when she turned the wrong way leaving the restroom. 
  • Or that time my Dad and I took a Father-Son trip to tour some battlefields on that Spring Break.  
  • Or that huge snake we saw curled up in the campground. 
  • Or the campfires and s’mores. 
  • Or the countless lakes, and time spent in the water with new campground friends. 
  • Or those summers camping in the KOA while my Mom finished her Master’s Degree.
  • Or that classic VW camper van, with the pop-up tent on the roof (after we upgraded from a tent).

We camped every summer.  We saw the country. We created memories.  We bonded as a family.

Fortunately, my wife also came from a camping family, and we’ve kept the tradition alive since the year we were married.  We made the “traditional” migration from backpacking to tent camping, to a pop-up trailer, to a travel trailer.  We took camping trips every year with our daughter, and we never slept in a campground bathroom.  We’ve learned some things since I was a child, and prefer the comfort of sleeping in a trailer to the adventure of enduring a tropical storm in a tent.

As we approached retirement, we knew camping and extended travel were going to play a role.  6 months before I retired, we bought our 35′ fifth wheel, and we’ve been enjoying it ever since:

Been camping lately?  It’s a great way to see the country, especially when you’re retired and have the luxury that time affords.  Go see the country.  And don’t forget the s’mores.


I know, I know. 

“The Pursuit of Childhood Joy” sounds like one of those soft topics a psychologist would likely preach.  Sometimes, it pays to listen.  In our case, the pursuit was serendipitous.  It wasn’t planned, it simply happened.  In fact, I didn’t even realize it until I thought about it during my walk in the woods with the dogs last night.  

Now that I have some time in retirement, I’ve found a new love for those things I enjoyed in childhood.  Funny how that works.  They’re different at this age, but they’re amazing nonetheless.  While my experience wasn’t planned, is there the slightest chance that you could benefit from being intentional in your pursuit of childhood joy?  What’s the harm in giving it a try?

Think of something you loved as a child.  Pursue it.

My life is better as a result.

Perhaps yours will be, too.

Your Turn:  What did you think of when I asked the question about what you enjoyed in childhood?  Are you still doing it?  Is there something that came to mind that you’d like to try again after a long drought?  Let’s chat in the comments…

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The Pursuit of Childhood Joy