What I learned from Winnie-the-Pooh: A birthday celebration

Today, we celebrate a very special bear that has enchanted generations of readers – the one and only Winnie-the-Pooh. The tales about the idiosyncratic residents of the One Hundred Acres Wood have been my favorite stories from my childhood. In addition to my love of Pooh Bear and rediscovering the surprising depth of his friends and their life philosophies, I also share my birthday with the author of this cherished children’s book series – A.A. Milne.

What better way to celebrate this cherished childhood classic than grabbing a book and reading aloud some favorite tales to your child, your pet or even your favorite teddy bear. As both Pooh Bear and I celebrate special milestones today, here are three life lessons I still try to embody from the “silly old bear.”

1.     Friendship is a true gift – cherish it more than anything else.

I have been to at least three weddings over the past few years where A.A. Milne’s famous exchange between Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet is quoted during the wedding ceremony:

“If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.”

Whether it’s romantic or friendly love, your close loved ones are who get you through the worst of your day – whether you or 5 years old or 85 years young.

Many times, kids can easily get lost in the weeds of growing up when trying to get the perfect grade on a test or scoring the lead role in the school play or practicing tirelessly to become the captain of the team. These are all fantastic goals – and you should always strive for more; however, it’s good for all of us to remember it is the friendships that stick with us – not the accolades, the money, or the material things.

2.     Practice empathy and respect others.

The stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and his complex social circle taught me at a very young to place myself in someone else’s shoes. Whether it was Piglet’s fear or Eeyore’s gloomy disposition or Tigger’s boundless energy, it’s important to step back and say, “Why does this person feel like this? Why do they react to this situation in this way? What can I do to help them feel secure?”

Teaching children empathy at a young age will truly shape them to be a citizen of the world. In an age where many people only focus on our differences, it’s important to look at Pooh’s diverse group of friends and their various viewpoints and remember we all simply want to be understood.

Sometimes, I think adults need to practice this more than children. If we were all open to the “new” in our lives (even the misunderstood Heffalumps and Woozles), we wouldn’t be so scared and closed-off to others

3.     You are allowed to fail – it’s necessary to living a full life.

Sure, Pooh and his friends tend to get into sticky situations (i.e. a honey tree), but failure teaches us key life lessons. It’s important for children to learn at a young age that it’s okay that you don’t always win first place.

This lesson was very hard for me to learn as a kid as I was "the overachiever" – and the lesson still continues to this day. It’s important for all of us to remember – whether you are a kid or a “kid at heart” – that focusing on the minutiae will only stress you out and make you short-sighted. Think about the long-term and what you really want – and be sure to take some time to enjoy a small snack during this period of reflection. My mouth still waters seeing Pooh Bear dine on a pot (well, mostly pots) of honey.

Happy Birthday, Pooh Bear! You continue to inspire me.

Shella Sund, 2016 via Flickr