Roughly forty million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder, lots from depression etc. All of us have suffered a version of these and, as I’ve written about in The Fear Project, there are a host of good ways of dealing, the first one being to stop beating yourself up for feeling bad. You’re human. That’s what it feels like sometimes.
Meditation, the million therapies, exercise, a good community, volunteering, all great.
But out surfing this morning it struck me that there is an important piece often missing from the enlightenment, self-improvement, wellbeing discussion:
Doing fun stuff.
We are so scheduled, wellness becomes another thing to check off the list, another job. Even meditation, yoga, going to the gym, or showing up at church can become a chore. That’s not to say these aren’t important and good – they are – but
you don’t meet many depressed kids. They know what makes them happy: climbing, jumping, drawing, running, beating drums, telling stories, baking a pie for the hell of it (and to eat it!). Fun stuff is fun for grown ups too, but we seem to develop an increasing guilt complex about things that have no other purpose than feeling the fullness of life (then we need to get drunk to let go of the guilt to *try* to have fun). Whether it’s the Protestant work-ethic or capitalism or whatever, I think adults the world over – and I preach to myself here – would do well to do one thing a day that’s fun for fun’s sake. And if you need a social good excuse, most fun stuff outdoors is arguably a benefit to the environment because while you’re just enjoying being outside you aren’t burning up fossil fuels working with a bunch of gizmos on.
What’s fun for you doesn’t have to be fun for anyone else, but you know you’ve found it when you don’t have to try to make it fun. Surfing, no matter how much I do it, is just fun. It’s healthy and beautiful and meditative and social but that’s a side-effect of the raw enjoyment of play. Like dancing or a pick-up game of basketball, like playing guitar with your friends, like doodling while listening to your favorite tunes – it’s just what it is. Good and fun and makes the day better.
Yeah, we have to work and push ourselves. We have to probe at the root of suffering. We need discipline, grit etc. But if you live in the modern world, you probably have already built the work discipline muscle a fair bit.
Meditation, as I argue a lot, can bring freedom and joy without needing any props, which gives it a sort of trump card status when it comes to wellbeing. (And it can actually be fun once you get past the achey knees.) But here’s another reason why free form play is important. Formal meditation often becomes a rigid work project – scheduled enlightenment- that can quickly become the opposite of full, embodied presence. When you’re having fun, you’re already present to a certain degree. No effort. So, when meditation becomes another hamster wheel project, experiences of that free form fun can then be brought back to sitting meditation to get back to real presence.
So this is my rant for today. Do fun stuff and don’t even worry what the psychological, physical, work, creativity benefits are. (The benefit is the fun.) We need to chill on counting our jogging strides, stop calculating how well we feel on a watch, and play.
Even if our fun muscles are a little rusty, they’re there. We all did it for 15 years or so without thinking. But having a prop – a surfboard, a hoop, a set of paints, dancing shoes, jogging shoes, a garden hoe, can be a good catalyst.
And the extra credit: While doing fun stuff, be aware of the the guilt. Then Let. It. Go. Fun is a societal good. Joy spreads. And, yes, it will probably make you better at work, too, but I hesitate to even say that cause we already define our worth far too much by work.
You’re human. You have a body. Life is fun. Do fun stuff.