Let’s start with a confession: I have been dismissive, even suspicious, of fun. (Loved ones have heard me say “Fun is overrated” enough that I can hear their eyes rolling as soon as I utter the F word.) “It’ll be fun” has not been a persuasive argument.
Yet I have a lot of it. More than once a week, sure. Sometimes more than once a day. It’s often spontaneous. Fun comes out of nowhere like a big friendly dog; I pet its head and scratch it behind the ears, and we both go on our ways with tails wagging.
So when I got to her “have fun” chapter in How Did I Get So Busy? The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule, and Reconnect with What Matters Most, Valorie Burton surprised me. She recommends scheduling fun. It’s good for us to lighten up, she writes; planning places a value on it, and we get to anticipate it. (Hmm. For weeks I’d looked forward to watching my younger nephew pitch in a baseball tournament. I even made travel plans around it.)
Her advice is especially for those who think fun is overrated, who don’t take all their vacation days at work, whose to-do lists have no recent checkmarks in the Have Fun box:
- Have fun goals for each week, month and year.
- Choose goals that make you smile, laugh or get excited. Research shows many health benefits from simply laughing. (Maybe we should add another topic to this series: Have Funny at Least Once a Day.)
- Choose what you really want to do, not what you think you should do.
- Don’t make it complicated.
- Keep a “fun file.” It’s like a job jar, except one’s more like Eeyore and one’s more like Tigger. When you think something fun you’d like to do, jot it down. Even write them on slips of paper and put them in a bowl. When it’s time for fun, pick one.
What is fun? Mine might not be yours. So I invited, “Let’s make a list: something fun you’ve done in the last 24 hours.” And the list makers came, 60 of them in 24 hours.
I see some themes.
Watching. Watched So You Think You Can Dance • Watched what my dogs are doing home alone on live camera feed • Watched My Name Is Earl reruns with my teenagers • Watched several episodes of Psych • Watched SpongeBob with my kindergartner • Savored dawn by watching the roseate spoonbills at a wildlife refuge • Watched my students rehearse their play • Watched our new baby girl through the miracle of sonography
Laughing. Tickled my six-month-old and made her laugh really hard • Laughed with good friends over cookies and coffee • Belly laughed with my friend when I was so proud I mailed a birthday card to her on time BUT in my excitement I forgot to write anything in it OR sign it • Got to spend 5.5 hours with my sister last night just chatting & laughing • Laughed at my funny husband until I couldn’t breathe • Sat on the porch joking with my husband about moments from our shared history • I’ve discovered that going-to-the-gym is a completely different experience with podcasts of “This American Life” and “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” I’m probably screaming with laughter, but I don’t notice because I’m wearing headphones.
Friends. Lunch with a friend • Had a Down Pour Black Porter with our friend Christian and talked film and poetry • Shared an hour with a friend who visited town after having moved away a few years ago. Her return, with her twinkly blue eyes, was a joy! • Visited with an old friend • Pizza and a board game (Agricola) with a friend • Had lunch with a friend I met thirty years ago and we’ve still not run out of things to talk about • Encountered an old friend in the store and stopped to visit and catch up • Committed a random act of breaking and entering my best friend’s house. With balloons.
Water. Ran through the rain holding my toddler’s monster umbrella • Splash pad with my little one • Spent the morning at the beach • Swam with a four-year-old love bug • Took my kids on an outing to my friend Ellen’s retirement community to play in the pool. Her delight and playful spirit and pure joy at splashing around with my seven- and almost-two-year-old were contagious.
Nature (wild and domesticated; animal, vegetable and mineral). Repotted two plants • Caught fireflies in the back yard with my sister, who is learning to celebrate the little joys in life while learning to cope with her mental illness • Picked bush cherries from my front yard • Wonderful dog walk, spotted a heron and an oriole, above and beyond the usual sightings • Simultaneously rubbed both my cats’ tummies • Hiked the Johnson Creek Ranch trail with my 8-year-old grandson • Took a stroll in my garden and found the first cucumber of the season.
Rest. Neglected responsibility, curled up in bed with a book in the middle of the day • Got away from unpacking boxes for the afternoon • Took a THREE-HOUR NAP! • Rocked on the front porch. Ignored everything that needed doing.
Retail therapy. Went to Home Depot twice in a 24-hour period • Lunch with mom and hubby and a visit to the farm store • Target $1 bin. (What did she buy? “A magic wand.”)
Play. Played cars with a three-year-old • Played Uno with my eight-year-old grandson • Jammin’ (playing his dulcimer) • Tossed a giant balloon around with my younger two. Unexpected silliness.
Work (including work of the hands, including crafts). Made jam and filleted a king salmon • Had a terrific meeting at work • Filled out the contract for my new book. Hurrah! • Made Christmas ornaments • Crocheted a flower! • Taught three new refugees their ABCs • Talked 44 accountants through three clay projects. They made owls, dinosaurs, shoes, guitars, flowers, birds … They were wearing their good work clothes.
Going somewhere. Took my girls to a concert in Central Park • Disneyland • Drove our new little Fiat 500L with the radio cranked to ’60s music.
Unclassifiable. (Unless the category is “Guys having fun teasing girls they like,” which has probably been a category throughout human history.) Freaked my wife out when I described the icicle of flesh and goo that they took out of my hand when I got it biopsied.
Some of those, of course, fit into more than one category. And we could name others: Food. Older and younger people together. Talk. Community. Solitude.
I look at this list and see some things I’d define as joyous. (Loved ones know my full saying is, “Fun is overrated. Joy is underrated.”) While fun can bring joy, they’re not the same, and both are important, Burton writes.
Joy is an inner state of being, a spirit of gratitude, an attitude of wonder, and an approach to life that unearths the good in every circumstance. You can have a deep sense of joy even when you are enduring challenging times. Fun, on the other hand, is enjoyment right now. It’s a release, an ignition of excitement and pleasure for a specific period.
In a 24-hour period this week, I had these ignitions of excitement and releases of laughter, some scheduled, some spontaneous, some both fun and joyous. (Loved ones may be glad to hear I am now retiring my Eyeore pronouncement about fun.)
- Playing on the pinball machine my future engineer nephew made from wood scraps, metal hardware and rubber bands.
- Talking with strangers.
- Talking with my future teacher nephew and watching a video on his phone.
- Watching (and cheering and clapping at) a ball game.
- Visiting a coffee shop and talking shop with another writer.
- Teasing someone on Twitter.
- Listening to a recording of ocean waves that a friend sent me.
- Eating takeout at the dinner table with my closest living relatives, laughing hard at things they said and saying things that made them laugh.
I’m glad so many of my friends and acquaintances have had so many kinds of fun in a day. But I keep thinking about the friend who answered this: “I can’t think of one single thing & that’s sad!” I have no idea how many people read that question and didn’t answer because that was also their answer.
If that’s you, I wish some fun for you this week. Even more than that, some funny. I hope something makes you laugh out loud, hard and long. I hope you pass it on.
You’re invited to join us as we write our way through this self-care series. You can find the list of prompts and publication dates here. Have something to say? Please join us. Simply drop a link to your blog in a comment on the corresponding post at any time.
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