This morning I sat to write this post, and shortly thereafter, my seven year-old daughter woke up. She stopped by for a cuddle and within minutes was buzzing about the house, asking questions and talking to the pets and puttering about. As I sat, staring at my computer screen, I heard her ask me, “Will you play with me?” And I wish I could say that I easily put everything down and went to play with her. But I hemmed and hawed and thought about all the things I was hoping to get done this morning. As you can imagine, “play” was not on the list.
Of course I said “Yes.” It only took me a few minutes to resolve my internal debate. Computer closed, ideas turned off, and two hours later I am sitting to type. The thing is, that this week I sat fully expecting to write about fun. And how important it is to incorporate fun into our stressful and task-oriented lives, and then I sat, like a work-focused ogre, ready to say “no” to a simple and welcome invitation to play. The timing is impeccable!
I have thought of this topic often, and in particular have been inspired by one of my long-time patients. She is remarkable for a lot of reasons, but the
one thing that really sticks with me is her constant inquiry both to herself and to her medical team, “What about fun?” Her doctor has told her that she would start chemo on a specific date, and she has simply said, “Nope. I need to do something fun first. I’ll start the week after.” That simple act has helped her feel stronger and more alive even as she constantly makes decisions related to ongoing treatment.
Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone should kick their treatment back or that she does this all the time, because you shouldn’t and she doesn’t. But I am suggesting that moving through treatment, or life at all, with no space or realization that fun is important, if not essential, is us really missing the boat.
In her TED talk, “My Year of Saying Yes to Everything,” the television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes speaks to this very point. She loves her work and defines herself by it, but asks what happens when the focus and inspiration fade? When the work feels disconnected and uninspired? What happens when we burn out and no longer feel the excitement of it? Well, she started saying “yes” to the things that scare her, including taking 15 minutes out of her day to say “yes” to her children when they asked her to play. To put down the cell phone, to disconnect and blow bubbles and have some good old fashioned, unstructured fun.
This is important. Because we are planners. We plan to do things — lunch and work and breaks and commutes. Treatments and appointments and blood draws and scans. It’s all accounted for. Every minute. But what about fun, and when do we account for it?
Fun can be literally anything depending on who you are and what pleases you. This is exciting and daunting at the same time. Because we like to know what to expect. But sometimes, fun is as simple as having an unstructured, unscheduled Saturday morning. Walking in the park and listening to the guy practicing guitar on the park bench. Stopping to chat with a person walking their dog, reading a book, going someplace new for breakfast. Making the time to call an old friend, going for ice cream before lunch, or laying in the grass and feeling how it tickles the underside of your arms while you see what the clouds have to say to you.
Sometimes the foundation of fun is eliminating your expectation.
I think on some level we don’t believe that fun is important. Or rather, that there is always something else that is more important. But I would argue that there is nothing more important than that. Than having a little space and time and ease and leisure. To let your mind wander, to see what happens next.
I have read that Winston Churchill took an inordinate amount of time in the tub. He stayed in bed late, drank in the afternoons and took long naps and walks, all while steering his nation through the traumas and threats of World War II. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it really makes perfect sense. He needed the space and time and leisure to see what was possible. To build the energy and the focus to literally save his country (and assist in rescuing the entire free world (!)).
When is the last time, when confronted with a huge decision or a difficult process that you gave yourself even 15 minutes of time? To think, to relax, to distract, to simply be. To put down the cell phone, shut off the TV and do something that feels easy and relaxing and fun? Without guilt, no pressure.
It doesn’t feel like there is time. But really, there is. There has to be. Because we can’t drive a car without gas. And our hearts can’t feel full if they are constantly being drained of inspiration, ease, beauty and simple, unadulterated fun.
Fun is meaningful and necessary and intrinsic to our very processes and to dismiss it as superfluous is to rob ourselves of something that is as nourishing as rest or food or light. Several years ago, while on a short road trip with my daughter, we had been in a car for a few hours when we needed to use the restroom. I stopped at the first available rest stop. “Rest stop?!”, she asked incredulously. “We don’t need a REST stop, we need a PLAY stop!” She’s right. We do. We all do. And much more often than we currently give ourselves.
Needless to say we raced around on the grass and had hopping contests and made the acquaintance of a few birds and crickets before getting back in the car and hitting the road. Fun can look like anything, and I hope you’ll scare up some for yourself, whatever it may be.