Some of us (ahem, ahem) can get so stuck in adult mode that even when we make time for fun things, we ruin the fun aspect of them. I can go on a holiday with a to do list that reads “relax, eat healthy food, read 16 books, swim every day” and all through my day off be thinking things like “Am I relaxing?”, “Am I relaxing enough“, “Oooh that’s handy, this playing chasey is really good exercise”. Most of us are familiar with the idea of having an inner critic (see Reclaiming Creativity). This is a bit different. This impulse I call my inner social worker.
Inner social workers are a good thing. They’re the voice that says “go and eat something!”, “clean that bathroom”, “you haven’t walked your dog in a week”, they are sensible, practical, and very focused on self care and accomplishment. The problem is that these attitudes are complete anathemas to having fun. When you’re stuck in adult mode with your inner social worker along for the ride, the most outrageous fun somehow gets turned into work. I remember being at a talk once where the speaker said “Look, I know many of you find art helpful, but for god’s sake don’t tell them that! They’ll turn it into art therapy.” Now, I quite like art therapy, but I got where he was coming from. Something emotional and spontaneous being turned into something functional by the imposition of social worker goals and language. The minute someone uses words like “a recovery focused program of increased self -awareness through artistic expression in a goal-oriented 6-week structured course designed to enhance independence”, all the magic drains out of the art room. Or maybe that’s just me?
Anyway. Having fun, I mean really shucking the adult role for a while and being able to enjoy yourself for the sheer fun of it, involves banishing your inner social worker. Some people describe letting go of their adult or parent side for a bit, personally I prefer to box them for the duration, rather the way you banish a big dog to the backyard while you have a tea party with the fine china. Except in this case, it’s kind of the reverse! Fun is about reconnecting to your inner child. Kids know how to have fun instinctively. They live wholly in the present moment, are ecstatic about small joys like icecream, a trip to the park, or being able to stay up late, and never spoil it all by trying to turn it into something productive.
So, you’ve boxed your inner social worker and determined that the next several hours will in no way be productive, what then? Spontaneity is one of the big aspects of fun. It doesn’t have to be, kids have a ball when a trip to the pool has been planned for a week, but if you’re struggling I’d suggest getting as far away from adult as you can. Wake up on a wet day and decide to go to the beach, romp about on the grass with your dog at the park, invite a friend around and make chocolate fudge cake. Deliberately try things that feel childish, give finger painting a go, eat a cheesecake without forks, go build a sand castle, dance around your living room to loud music, cook popcorn and leave the lid off the pot. If you get really dried out and can’t think of anything creative and interesting to do, try keeping lists of ideas you might like to try the next time you have an afternoon free. Get ideas from books or sites suggesting activities to keep kids occupied during the holidays. Build a fort out of your sofa cushions, dye easter eggs, go join a costume society or build a model train set. Hanging out with kids can be an amazing way to find your sense of fun again.
Breaking the rules is part of why things can be fun, suspending the normal world for a moment and entering a place where anything might happen. For this to work you need some safe rules to break. We’re not talking rules like “don’t play on the road”, but rules like “we eat at the table”, “you can’t get wet in your clothes”, “bedtime by 11pm”, “dinner before dessert”, or “no flooding the bathroom”. If you don’t have some safe rules to break, make some, stick to them most of the month, then have a night off where you break all of them. Midnight feasts are fun because they’re against the rules, but not actually dangerous in any way. Suspending the normal structure or your life to go and ride motorbikes, learn surfing, or lie on your lawn eating mangoes under a sprinkler can be the release from the adult world that you need to feel rejuvenated.
Friends are another big part of having fun. A strong sense of fun involves a sense of humour and a strong vitality. A love of life, an attraction to the ridiculous, indifference about looking like an idiot, and an aversion to monotony. Some people have these characteristics in spades, and if they were marooned on an island, would still set up a practical joke shop and make a brisk trade selling brilliant ideas to themselves. The rest of us often find that we need other people to bounce off, that our sense of fun is at times very strong, and at others, totally battered by all kinds of things going on in our lives. There are times when we are the spark that lights the fire for our weary friends and starts an evening of rolling around on the floor laughing through a game of pictionary. There are times it’s our friends that invite us to go on a zombie walk through the city covered in green facepaint and fake blood. This mutuality prevents one person doing all the inspiring and the other/s enjoying being inspired but never working out how to start that fire themselves. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you are the only one with a fire and everyone else is happy to warm their hands at it, but in your dark nights they have nothing to offer or are just irritated with you that you aren’t still providing the lovely fire for them. Friends who get it and bring their own love for life to the party are a joy, and you often develop an ‘in-crowd’ language about these kinds of times spent together, where one of you can ring the other up and say “lavender socks” and have them burst into laughter and clear their evenings plans.
Fun is magically restorative, it eases all those knotted muscles, relaxes our facades of respectability, lets us open up to life and feel and breathe and live. It’s not all there is, pleasure, quieter joys, melancholy, curiosity, contentment, so many things are important to a full, rich life. Fun gives us our childhood back, grass stains on the knees, chocolate frosting on one ear and sprinkles on the other. Somewhere along the line a lot of us lose our sense of fun and adult fun becomes about breaking taboos of sex or drugs, or getting drunk enough to lower inhibitions. It doesn’t have to be this way, your brain can create that heightened, giggly, tipsy state all by itself without spending lots of money or getting plastered. Some of us have just forgotten how for a while. But it’s like riding a bike, we never truly forget.