“When was the last time you had fun?” I was asked this as an icebreaker question at a business meeting recently. I was stumped in answering it.
New Year’s Eve? Summer trip to San Diego? In Vegas for that work trip in March?
I really strained to answer that question and to find an example that wasn’t months ago. The straining made me angry at myself and life.
Where did all the fun go?
I have been contemplating this lately. As a parent, I know that playing is something we are born doing. It is a child’s main job. Any parent knows that their kids would have fun all day long if left to it. Much of my daily strife comes from trying to get my children to stop having fun to do other things. Yet, at some point, school, jobs, parenting and life take over into adulthood.
By answering that difficult question, I learned that I had been longing for fun. Not the type of fun I had when I was in my 20s, as a wild night out now would wreak havoc on me for a week. I think as adults we have substituted drinking alcohol and normalized other habits like shopping or gambling as the adult way to play. Instead, I am on a mission to pursue little and big ways of playing more creatively everyday.
What is play?
In Johan Huizinga’s book, “Homo Ludens,” he defines play as having distinct features:
- Play is free and voluntary – things we are forced to do are rarely fun. We “opt into” fun by willingly participating in it.
- Play is different than real life – it follows different rules, supports unusual outcomes and is meant to be an escape from ordinary life.
- Play is non-purposeful – unlike so many endeavors we pursue in our day, play is not a means to an end. Play itself is the goal.
Play is also good for us. In Huizinga’s work, he found that play was the central activity in flourishing societies. Turns out, having fun, or playing, has many positive effects on individuals from better health to more creativity.
“Huizinga assembles and interprets one of the most fundamental elements of human culture: the instinct for play. Reading this volume, one suddenly discovers how profoundly the achievements in law, science, poverty, war, philosophy, and in the arts, are nourished by the instinct of play.”—Roger Caillois, editor of Diogenes
Backed by better understanding of play and a motivation sparked by a provocative icebreaker question, I am on mission to have more fun the rest of this year. The time around the holidays can be a good time to give ourselves permission for this, though we shouldn’t need it. Yet, often, we do. The fluidity of this time of year can make it easier to rework our schedules, take a quick trip or indulge a little more. Will you join me?
How I am having more fun
In the spirit of more play, I extended a work trip to New York recently to see friends. A girlfriend came in town for a visit and we roamed the city, making stops for champagne along the way. I also got acrylic nails for the first time in a decade. Those were some big efforts to have big fun. Smaller ones included playing football with my boys without being asked 1,000 times and a bike ride without a destination. I read a joke book with my daughter last night. We laughed and stayed up later than we should have on a school night. In breaking the rules, we both had a little fun.
So far, I am enjoying making it a priority to play more. In doing so, I become more of myself, too.