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Even as Adults, We Should Still 'Sing Like No One's Listening'

07/06/2013 02:13 EDT | Updated 09/04/2013 05:12 EDT

"Sing like no one is listening," people say. "Dance like no one is watching." Really? My school of thought is more along the lines of, "Maybe sing in the shower," or "Maybe dance in the living room with the blinds drawn."

I recently attended my daughter's drama camp performances, three performances of the same show. Many of the kids were extremely talented, and some....weren't. A couple of the kids were actually tone-deaf and had solos anyway. They sang with heart and emotion, and I honestly feared that my eyeglasses would crack (along with my ear drums) from the strain of a little boy's voice, desperately off-pitch, as he attempted to reach an unidentifiable high note.

How marvelous! I looked forward to hearing that little boy massacre "Sondheim" during each of the three performances, because it was so darn cute. For a short period in life, we are given the ultimate freedom to try new things (and even to perform in public) without criticism or judgment. We feel that there is a world full of opportunity open for us. We can be firefighters, or president, or rock stars, and Mommy will tell us we're wonderful and tuck us in at night.

Just a few months earlier, I attended a talent show at a high school. A beautiful, soon-to-be woman sang a Taylor Swift song, karaoke-style. If she hit any of the right notes, it was by accident, and at 17 years of age, she has sadly outgrown the "so cute" window. All of the parents in the audience politely clapped, whispering to each other, "It's a shame her parents let her get up in front of people like this," or "Why hasn't anyone told her she can't sing?"

Around the time we figure out we're not going to be prima ballerina astronauts, we usually stop singing like no one is listening. We know they're listening. They listen, and they judge, and if we don't want to be judged so we limit our singing to the shower. Our mothers should bravely encourage the tone-deaf among us to prepare something else for the talent show. We should learn that it matters how well we do things. It's a tough lesson for this generation that grew up receiving "participation awards" just for showing up at tee ball or chess club.

Is this what growing up means? That we lose the ability to do things just because we feel like it, no matter what other people think? Not at all! Many adults belt out horrendous karaoke after a beer or two, while complete strangers cheer their enthusiasm. It goes way farther than karaoke, too, because this somewhat over-used suggestion about singing and dancing is simply a poetic way to say, "seize the day," and there are many ways to do that.

People have been accused me, occasionally, of expressing an unnatural level of enthusiasm. They think that life must treat me better than it treats them, or certainly they would be just as happy as I. The truth is, I wasn't always this way, and I haven't had a perfect life. I made a conscious decision to make gratitude a part of my daily routine, and with that practice came a sense of perspective and joy that is accessible to almost all of us, if we're willing to work for it. That is how even someone like myself -- a self-proclaimed introvert, fuddy-duddy, and teetotaler (well, mostly) -- can live in the spirit of "sing like no one is listening."

When you feel grateful every day, you make every day count. For example, I have terrible eyesight and early arthritis in my knees. Every morning, I express gratitude for my bifocals and glucosamine supplements. At least I can see! I can't play tennis, but I can walk! I stroll outside as much as possible, appreciating the shades of green and blue, and return home as happy as a little girl who just met Cinderella at Disney World.

Gratitude provides perspective, but it's not a cure-all. When life deals me a really lousy hand, I need to cry and scream and emote just like everyone else on the planet. Then I take out my journal and begin with the basics. "I am grateful for air. I'm grateful to be alive. I'm grateful that every day won't be like this." After a page or two, I feel calm and able to face the world.

Want to know a secret? Sometimes I do burst into song. Are you ready to give it a try?

Morning Mantras