It's never too late to have a happy childhood*

My littlest grandson's word of the day is 'happy'. He's happy with his pancakes, his toys, his ability to climb the stairs and he says the word - you guessed it! - happily. Joy in a child is so unfiltered it makes almost everyone smile.

If you have the chance to spend time with children, they offer great opportunities to do fun things. I've spent hours with the grandsons at a small beach turning up rocks to see if there are crabs or chitons under them, carrying small boulders up the steps to the fishing platform (if no one's fishing!) to drop them in for the splash, or trying to skip stones. Pets can also show us how to live in the moment and be playful. Perhaps I caught the pleasure of dozing in the sun from my cat though I'm not so amused when she brings in a mouse and calls me to join in the fun!

When work is no longer central or at least takes up less time, there's an opportunity to turn to new activities. That can be a challenge. What will be worthwhile? What will I enjoy? Reflecting on childhood enthusiasms might throw some light on the matter.

I can remember the excitement of going to the ballet with my family when I was about seven years old. We had seats in the 'gods' and I was afraid of tumbling over the edge into the dress circle below. The atmosphere was magical, the orchestra tuning up, the costumes of the dancers.

Afterwards, I pored over the ballet books our grandparents sent my sister and me and leapt down the hallway in imagined dances. No, I'm not about to embark on a late ballet career, though I could join a dance class for exercise or put music on and dance at home. Mainly I express this interest by booking tickets for any ballet or dance performances that come to town. What I mean is, don't dismiss your longings, see if you can adapt them. If you wanted to be an astronaut, study the stars, learn about the moon landings or go to the planetarium. I know of a woman in her 60s who became a volunteer fire officer. Be creative!

You'll know by now that I'm fulfilling childhood ambitions by learning to swim and to play the piano. Neither of these skills comes easily at this stage of my life but they are very satisfying. In both cases it was essential to have a good teacher because patience and encouragement are as important as the skills themselves. It's no less important to have fun along the way. Once, when I was swimming my laps at the pool, I became aware that the swimmer I was sharing the lane with climbed out every now and then to dive in the deep end. When we were both taking a break I asked her about it and she said her teacher showed her how to dive and now she motivates herself by diving in after every set of laps. It sounded fun!

At present among my piano pieces I have a rollicking version of 'When the Saints go Marching in' which I bash out with exuberant chords before going back to scales and carefully stitching Chopin's Prelude together.

Reclaiming something from your childhood might bring up fear or resistance, perhaps even sadness – why wasn't I given this opportunity when I was young and it would have been easier? Maybe there's a reason you let it go previously or didn't take it up as a young adult. I started having piano lessons when my son began to learn but the teacher, while she was impressed with how quickly he picked it up, told me, 'You have the right idea but it stops at the elbow.' I stopped right there and didn't try again for thirty years. Perhaps I gave up too easily, but then life was busy and it's only now that I have time.

If you find yourself blocked by resistance, consider where it comes from and whether it's still (or ever really was) relevant. Did it feel risky? Were you hurt? Was it thought to be childish? Not what people expected you could do? One of the joys of getting older is caring much less about what people think, so we can make up our own minds about what we do. We can fill our time with things that we once loved or wished we could have.

* Tom Robbins