I just spent a few days back in Colorado meeting my new niece. Her name is Milana Rose and she was 6 weeks old, and of course adorable. On the last day of my visit, I watched Milana for a while so that her rightfully exhausted parents could get a little uninterrupted sleep. For part of the time, she slept on my lap while I checked email. Then she woke up quietly, and it could have been easy to continue “getting things done.” But I thought, I’ll never get to hold Milana as a baby like this again…she’ll be almost a year old by the time I will likely see her again at Christmas. So I pushed my computer away to focus on Milana, and I was so glad I did. She swung her arms around, kicked her feet, looked up at me, watched the funny faces I was making at her, oh and spit up a bunch too (but I was prepared!). She even gave me a smile or two!
My sister and I were wondering if babies are happy when they smile. I found an interesting article on the topic by Nicholas Day. Drawing on the work of University of Miami psychology professor Daniel Messinger, who says that infants may “experience the happiness of others as essential to their own happiness,” Day suggests that maybe babies don’t smile because they’re happy. Maybe they smile because the people smiling down at them are happy…and eventually, that makes them happy!
Strangely enough, this talk of babies fits right in with an observation that Laurence Gonzales makes in his book Deep Survival. He argues that one of the reasons people panic when they get lost in the wilderness is because they are desperately afraid that they will never be seen again. This is one of our basic needs…to be “gazed upon by another.” If you’ve ever spent time around a baby, you’ll know that one of the most entertaining activities is just to watch them; Gonzales says that mothers across the globe are often observed looking into their infants’ eyes, with their head tilted just so, for long periods of time.
And maybe that has something to do with this description of happiness, by psychology professor Daniel Gilbert of Harvard: “We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends, and almost all the other things we think make us happy actually are just ways of getting more family and friends.
I hope your life brings many things that make you happy, especially family and friends (and maybe an adorable new niece)!