I have a confession to make. I’ve forgotten how to have fun. Sometimes, I’m not even sure I remember what it feels like to have fun. Maybe I have fun and don’t know it. At any rate, I want more fun in my life.
It’s said that midlife is where fun goes to die, but I don’t think that’s totally true. I know people who have quite a lot of fun. Maybe it’s just me.
fun: noun – enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.
I enjoy things, like surfing the internet or watching TV, but I wouldn’t call that fun. I’m often amused by things, like when I saw a deer trying to put her front hooves on the swinging bird feeder and sticking out her tongue trying to reach the seed. It was funny, but I wouldn’t call it fun.
I guess when I think of fun, I think of running around screaming and laughing, climbing trees, playing red light/green light, and running through the sprinklers on a hot summer day. When I think of fun, I think of friends and play.
play: verb – engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.
In other words, fun equals play. Have I forgotten how to play or has my idea of play changed now that I’m well past the age where running around screaming and playing tag is acceptable?
I know what I consider fun: drawing, taking photos, hiking, reading (Most of my reading, however, is for learning, which, while fun, tends to make me a little bit obsessive. So much so, that I have to stop reading altogether for a little while). I also put a lot of “serious and practical” on it. I’m not just doing it for fun. I have an ulterior motive. How can I make money doing something I feel is fun? Money takes all the fun out of everything. I don’t do anything for the pure enjoyment of it and that may be why I don’t feel like I get to have any fun.
So I did a little research. (PS I enjoy researching things, so I’ll consider that fun. I’m winning already.)
Why do we need to play?
The National Institute for Play – yes, there is such a thing – studies the transformative power of play. Turns out, play isn’t just for kids. As adults, we need play to help us maintain our social nature, which in turn keeps us from feeling lonely. It also helps us build community. And as a bonus, it’s good for our brains.
“What you begin to see when there’s major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they’re not much fun to be around,” [says Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the institute.] “You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious.” (See full NPR article with Dr. Brown here)
The opposite of play is not work, but depression. – Brian Sutton-Smith
Aha! So that’s why I’m a boring old sad-sack who never feels like she has any fun. I am play-deprived.
So, what constitutes play?
According to Dr. Brown, “Play is something done for its own sake, [. . .] It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”
Play looks different to everybody. What I consider play, like trudging up a 14,000 foot mountain, may sound like torture to others. However, when I’m hiking up a mountain, I enjoy it so much that I make it a point to be present for every moment. I want to enjoy the lack of noise, the smell of the pine trees, the sight of a lone raven playing in the thermals. I even want to enjoy the fact that my legs are completely spent from carrying me up and down the mountain, my lungs are working hard to keep the oxygen flowing so I don’t die, and my heart is pounding so loud that I often wonder if someone is walking behind me, beating a drum. I am most certainly proud of making it to the summit, but even if I have to turn back early due to weather or sickness, I enjoyed every part of the journey and that’s enough.
So how do I work more fun into my life?
It caught my attention when Dr. Brown said, “it takes you out of time.” I took a drawing class not long ago and when I worked on homework, I lost all track of time. After a while, I would look up and notice that the sun had gone down and wonder how the heck that had happened. It felt like I had just started working even though six hours had gone by.
The same thing happens when I go out to take photos. At one point, I was taking photos of old churches in town. I find the architecture profoundly beautiful and I’m intrigued by how the style of architecture changed as the city grew west. I would start out with one church, then remember another up the street and go photograph it. Then I’d drive toward a steeple I’d see off in the distance, but also stop to photograph the churches along the way. I’d spend hours “chasing churches” and then wonder where the time went. (FYI, the architecture gets less interesting and the churches more utilitarian and sprawling much as the city sprawled. However, I still find chasing churches interesting. As I drive through rural America, I can spot the towering steeple of a church that was built on the highest point in any small town. I’ll go miles out of my way to take a look and I’m never disappointed.)
As we grow up and enter the adult world, life gets serious. We have careers to manage, homes to keep up, and kids to raise. But we were kids once and believe it or not, we remember what it feels like to have fun. Maybe we aren’t going to invite the neighborhood mom’s and dad’s over for a rousing game of freeze tag, but we can find something we enjoy, that takes us out of our heads for a few hours, and that is not time wasted.
The most important part, I believe, is to recognize and appreciate when you’re having fun and let yourself be okay to play for a little bit. You don’t have to run through the park like Phoebe did in the Friends episode “The One Where Phoebe Runs” (but why not?) And you don’t have to run naked through the sprinklers (but why not?) All you have to do is decide what you consider fun, whether it be golfing with your buddies or quilting with your girlfriends or mountain biking with your girlfriends or playing scrabble with your buddies. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re having fun, because life really is supposed to be fun.