How many of us truly dedicate our days to having fun? Is it normal that as we grow older our days include less and less creative fun and more and more boring routine? Can we do anything about it? If so, why should we?
This article is going to demonstrate how by following fun, we actually allow ourselves to develop into high-achievers. If you want to learn about how to follow fun then read on!
Fun Is Where The Growth Is
“Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.” This was one of the phrases my father constantly repeated to me as a child. Among others were “Can’t never did anything but wet his pants.” and “If you’re not going to say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.” I want to focus on the first phrase here, but now you have a broad idea of my father’s life philosophy.
It’s true that life is filled with activities we don’t want to do. Starting in childhood we learn, often while drowned in tears, that life doesn’t always go our way, if ever. Turns out we can’t walk around the neighborhood in our undies. Sad times.
We learn that our physical powers are limited and that older, and presumably wiser, people set the tone for how we should behave around others. These limitations guide the formation of our ego, so that we may live in relative harmony with the people around us. And that’s a good thing! Have you ever read “Lord of the Flies”? The story is a literary allegory for what happens when the unformed ego of children runs the show. It isn’t pretty.
So as children we learn that it’s not acceptable to run around the family home while shouting swear words in Spanish at the top of our lungs. We learn we can’t sneak into our parent’s bed in the middle of the night. And that “nap time” at the daycare actually means “lying on a mat on the floor against your will and making a fuss about it.” I hated nap time at the daycare.
Social Conformity Is A Double-Edged Sword
The socializing force of our parents and our extended circle teaches us to conform, to follow the unwritten rules of behavior for a human being in society. And in many ways that’s good. Actually, I would venture to say that it’s overwhelmingly good. Humans are kind and compassionate by nature, even though our species has been through a helluva time on this planet we are becoming progressively less violent and more aware of the suffering caused by our activities to the people, animals and plants of the world. So we pick up these good, life-affirming traits from our social circle as we grow up.
But socialization does have its cons. The same herd instinct which allows us to effortlessly learn the “good” habits from each other as we grow up also enables us to learn the “bad” ones (I’m using quotations here because good and bad are judgments and as such they are limited by what we know. In truth, we never can know the future ramifications of any event. Something “good” now may lead to something “horrid” in the future and the other way around. The best we can do is navigate duality as equanimously as we can).
One of the cons is that we do indeed learn that “sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do”, but we take it to the extreme. I believe many of us take the phrase so to heart that we end up believing that the majority of our life is “Doing things we don’t want to do.”
And That’s Terrible
Because if we believe that then we end up doing less of what we actually want and more of what other people want us to do. This process is, of course, perpetuated by the atrocious schooling system which you can read about here and here.
If we aren’t doing what we want to be doing; in work, relationships or anything else, then it’s up to us to change things. And we have all have the power to do so. What determines whether we access that power is whether we believe life is all about “doing things we don’t want to do” or “doing things we want to do.”
Doing things you actually want to do is a surefire way to achieve success. Real, self-defined success. And you can tell you’re actually doing something you want to do when you’re having fun.
Why Following Fun Makes Us Superstars
What is fun? Trying to define it is pointless because fun is an internal experience (isn’t everything?). We all know when we’re having fun and each of us has our own set of activities which are fun to us. For some it’s cooking, others sewing, riding horses or even collecting antique PEZ dispensers. For me it used to be playing video games and drinking with friends. Now it’s reading, writing and walking (among others).
Whatever the fun activity may be, all fun has common characteristics:
- We lose our sense of time. Hours can pass without our being aware of them.
- We experience a light heart. We don’t take things seriously and are relaxed overall.
- We seek to share. Even loners enjoy sharing their fun experiences with people who are interested.
- We learn the most. Human beings learn best when we are having fun.
I will briefly expand on the characteristics here.
We Lose Our Sense Of Time
There is a psychophysiological phenomenon which has garnered massive attention in the recent decades known as “flow.” You can read about it in this review I wrote. Flow is the pinnacle of human experience. It’s the quieting of the mind as we immerse ourselves fully in the activity we are performing, whatever it may be. Flow is achievable by anyone and it’s a profoundly satisfying mental and physical experience, unlike anything else in life. I’m in flow now as I write this.
When we’re genuinely having fun we’re in a state of flow. Recall a time in your life when you’ve had genuine fun. Not the pretend kind of fun that we put on when we attend an office party we’d rather not be at or when we fakely laugh at someone’s unfunny joke. I’m talking about genuine fun here, the bonafide, real deal, knock-your-socks-off kind.
Really recall a time you had fun. Think about it for a bit…
How active was your internal dialogue when you were having fun? Was it as active as when you’re not having fun? What was your view on the world and your role in it?
For example, last weekend I went cross-country skiing with my partner and a friend. We skied, talked, fell onto the snow, saw a couple of dogsled mushers and laughed a ton. We were out and about for four and a half hours, yet it seemed like nothing. By the end of it we were all tingling with the joy that comes from being outdoors with great people.
Our fun was such that time dilated, we were so immersed in the moment we had not a thought for time. So it quite literally didn’t exist for us.
We Experience A Light Heart
Adults take themselves sooo seriously. I was surprised at this after I graduated college. I was friends with a bunch of goofballs in college, we did wonderfully silly things together like sing along to Disney songs, play children’s icebreaker games (even though we all knew each other) and play pranks on each other (we once put our roommates school supplies in Jell-O, like Jim did to Dwight in “The Office”).
Then we all graduated, went our separate ways and I started working in a government lab where everything was serious. The research was serious, as were the meetings and all of our fledgling scientific careers.
As I got older, things only became more serious! Innocent opinions started being “professional opinions”, I felt like everything I said could be taken as a reflection of my professional capacity and, thus, my personal worth. Politically incorrect jokes were no longer allowed. No more jokes like the one about how the Mexican Olympic team sucks because all the Mexicans who can run, jump and swim are already in the United States. A friendly touch on the shoulder could lead to litigation. So no touching. Also, it felt like a serious professional always has all the answers. But really, nobody knows anything and we’re all just great at pretending we do!
The seriousness of everything was exhausting. No one forced this upon me, of course, I accepted the culture of seriousness.
But it does beg the question, where does the culture of seriousness come from?
Taking Ourselves Seriously Is A Sign Of Insecurity
When we identify with our ego-based image of seriousness, anything that threatens it, such as a joke or admitting ignorance, causes our ego to flare out in self-defense. That’s why being able to take a joke is a sign of confidence.
If you look at children, with their unformed egos, they don’t care about being wrong. They don’t care about whether they say things which might be considered “insensitive.” They are themselves, unabashedly and unashamedly.
Because of this they are the perfect explorers. They have no boxes to fit in, no preconceived notions of what’s “right” and “wrong, no shame to keep them in their place. Life is an open adventure to children. They are the ultimate outsiders.
Of course we need to learn rules to live together with other people. But sometimes we can allow the rules and regulations to smother our inner light.
When we have fun we revert to our childlike nature. We express ourselves freely while following the rules; be kind, treat others respectfully, listen to what others have to say, and the like.
Fun unlocks us from our prison of seriousness and allows our wonder for life to shine through.
Back to the cross-country ski trip. It was cold that day, around -15 degrees Celsius. Even with thick gloves our hands were freezing. It hurt.
But as we started moving in our skis, talking and encouraging each other, laughing, the seriousness of the situation started melting away. Until we were left with a light, sunny, spacious vastness which complimented our surroundings perfectly.
Fun gives us a light heart.
We Seek To Share
I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like to talk about their hobbies (which are activities we do for fun). Ask anyone about what they do for fun and they will immediately light up and explain to you everything you care to know and more about their hobby. Whether it’s being with their family or watching television shows, people want to share their fun.
We want to invite others into our fun. Which is why language came about, to share what we had going on inside of us with the outside world.
As a tip, asking anyone “What do you do for fun?” or “Do you have any big plans coming up?” is a great way to get around boring old conversation-killing questions like “What do you do?”, “Where do you live? And “How about that weather, eh?”
We Learn The Most
Play is a human universal in childhood. This means that all children, anywhere they are in the world, engage in play whenever they can and want to. According to Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology, play is an essential avenue for learning the ropes of human nature.
For example, all around the world, boys and girls play some version of the game “tag.” In tag, someone is “it” and that child has to chase down another child and touch them so that they can then be “it.” It’s possible that this game developed as a way for humans to simulate predator-prey interactions in a low-stakes environment. You can read about this in “12 Rules For Life” by Jordan Peterson.
Play also happens in the animal kingdom. Wolves and foxes engage in the same kind of predator-prey simulation play. But play isn’t restricted to mammals. Crows can also engage in play, as we can see in this funny video.
What can the crows possibly be gaining from this activity? It’s taking them energy and time they could be using to forage for food. Could it be that they’re doing it just for fun? Could be. But if you notice, it takes the crows a certain degree of skill to grab onto the branch and swing from it, not all the crows are able to do it. In order to grab onto the branch a crow needs to be coordinated, to predict the way the branch will move with its weight on it and to relax as it hangs upside down. I believe all of these skills could come in handy for practical survival purposes. And the crows are developing them while having fun!
Isn’t That Absolutely Amazing?
We live in a universe where we can learn and grow while having fun! If that’s not evidence of the universe being a loving place then I don’t know what is.
Like the crows, humans also engage in play which develops important life skills.
Boys roughhouse and girls gossip. *GASP* I shouldn’t write these things, we live in an age of equality after all, where everyone is the same and gender is a social construct. That’s a load of crap. Boys and girls have different things going on inside them, its a biological fact. Behavior is a complex interplay of genes and environment, which can’t be teased apart. There is a biological underpinning for these differing behaviors which have been passed down through countless generations of human beings living and dying on the planet.
When boys and girls play, they are learning.
When boys roughhouse they are learning how to use their bodies, how it feels to both inflict and receive physical pain and how to challenge their peers on an equal standing. This is invaluable.
When girls gossip they are learning what matters in a relationship, what can be said and done to form and dissolve support groups and how to express their feelings clearly. This is invaluable.
These differences make us strong. They allow us to complement each others’ strengths and make up for our weaknesses.
Fun = Learning
The fact is, we learn the most when we’re having fun. When we’re having fun we experience positive emotions which supercharge our learning centers, increase our focus and allow us to notice more things and be more creative in solving problems. Albert Einstein said:
“Play is the highest form of research.”
Play allows us to discover our limitations and explore new avenues of behavior (like the crows). When we have fun, without being aware of it, we expand our vision and broaden our horizons.
One of the activities that is the most fun for me is sharing discussions with people. I just love discovering what makes people tick, what they’ve been through and what their dreams and goals are. When I’m engaged in a discussion with someone we are both learning. We learn about a point of view different from our own, about how to communicate our ideas clearly and concisely and how to speak in an engaging way.
After a discussion with someone my mind is left tingling and my heart open to discovery. I tend to have some of my best ideas for articles a day after engaging in energetic discussions. Makes sense, when I’m discussing with someone I’m playing at speaking an article, rather than writing it.
The Fun Of Creativity
We never know how our play could impact our work. That’s where creativity comes in; combining distinct elements into a single, original idea which has value. Like how combining the ideas of a search engine, a radio station and the genetic code of music led Tim Westegren to create Pandora Internet Radio (from “A More Beautiful Question” by Warren Berger).
I would like to add that the more creative our fun the more we learn. For example, doodling or painting teaches us more than watching television does. When we have fun by creating rather than consuming we learn how to make our own things rather than repeat what has already been done. We make our own creative mistakes. That is irreplaceable experience.
So take the lids off some paints, pull some crayons out, spread some newspaper on a table and just create! You never know what will come to you when you do!
So Have More Fun, Creatively!
I hope this article has inspired you to include more fun into your life. I speak from experience when I say that as I started doing less of the things I didn’t want to do and more of what I did, aka having fun, I started learning and creating more. Naturally, I still do things I don’t want to do, like grocery shopping, but now my work is filled with more fun than it ever had been before.
And it all came from following the fun.
So how are you going to follow your fun?
To our wealth and success.