Now that it's summer vacation, this month struck me as the perfect time to work on my play. In an irony that didn't escape me, I was prepared to work doggedly at fun and be serious about joking around. Lately, I'd been feeling as if I was just turning from one chore to another; I was feeling drained and overwhelmed. I knew I needed to make time for fun - but how?
When I started to think about fun, I realized the importance of silliness; a happy atmosphere isn't created merely by the absence of nagging and yelling. I made a resolution to "make time to be silly." Studies show that in a phenomenon called "emotional contagion," we unconsciously catch emotions from other people - whether good moods or bad moods. Taking the time to be silly means that we're infecting one another with good cheer.
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It isn't always easy. For instance, my husband often plays a morning game with our younger daughter: While we're all getting ready for school or work, he comes into her room, as I'm prodding her to get dressed, and announces to her, "OK, I'm leaving for work now. Come give me a kiss." This is hilarious to my daughter - because he's wearing nothing but his boxer shorts! Or he's dressed but his feet are bare! This familiar exchange started to annoy me, because it slowed down our march through the morning checklist. But then I remembered, "Make time to be silly." We have time for a little goofiness, and it's such a nice way to start the day. Instead of chivvying them along, I've started to join in the fun.
I also realized that I needed to let go of my idea of what I wish I found fun. Wine tasting, editing home videos, making homemade pasta, getting a pedicure, learning French, exploring the app store on the iPad...these activities sound so fun, and I wish I did find them fun, and I see why other people find them fun - but I don't.
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In a way, admitting my true likes and dislikes makes me sad. The world offers so much, and I'm too limited to enjoy it. Fly-fishing sounds so fun; why can't it be fun for me? If I tried harder, couldn't I enjoy jazz? Shouldn't I get past my love of breakfast cereal and try pâté? Now that I'm a grown-up, shouldn't I start inviting my friends over for elegant dinner parties instead of serving them takeout Chinese food?
But although acknowledging my true likes and dislikes showed me my limits, it also meant that I could spend my free time on activities that I honestly found fun. One of my happiness-project resolutions led me right back to my First Commandment: "Be Gretchen." I have to know and pursue what is truly fun for me. That's the road that leads to happiness.
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Now that I've relinquished my fantasies of all the people I wish I could be, and stopped feeling guilty about not going to the opera or pretending that I want to attend a foreign policy lecture, I have more time for the things that I truly enjoy. For instance, now I have more time to read. Which is what I really find fun.
Photo by Bjorn Wallander
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