People love talking about having fun. Listening to them, I've often wondered if maybe I was missing something. When asked what I do for fun, I've been reluctant to answer. I've learned by the look on people's faces it might not be what they expect to hear. Or maybe it just doesn't sound like fun to them.
Growing up during the 60s was an exciting revolutionary time. The hippie era flourished and free love, sex, drugs and rock & roll became part of the lifestyle of the day. It was a time when people enjoyed life, indulging themselves in fun and pleasure. Some people at least. Just not me.
When I channeled the title for my book Confessions of a Middle-Aged Hippie, I was excited, as it made perfect sense to me. After all, my "hippie" was all about the values of peace and love, music and art, exploration and transformation. The more serious stuff. It was my brother Niel, who broke the news to me that I wasn't really a "hippie." Hmm. My idea of fun has always been, well, much more serious. Fun for me is all about learning new things.
What Does "Fun" Mean Anyway?
When I went to the dictionary to look up the definition of fun, I was curious to see if maybe what I got from learning new things would qualify as "fun." Fun means enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure as in "the children were having fun in the play area."
Fun is about jollification, merrymaking, recreation, diversion, leisure, relaxation; a good time, a great time; high spirits, laughter, hilarity, glee, gladness, lightheartedness, levity. You get the idea. Learning definitely brings me enjoyment and pleasure, often amusing me and offering a diversion too. This reassured me that learning does officially qualify as fun--at least for me.
Bringing Childhood Fun into Adulthood
Children are fascinating to observe. They live from a place of wonder and joy, finding pleasure and fun in even the smallest of moments. They appear to simply have fun just from being.
Curious how we bring fun into our lives as adults and the importance of actually taking time for it in our stressed-filled 24/7 non-stop world, it was time to look deeper. Albert Einstein's quote, "Play is the highest form of research," opened the door.
Understanding Play and Fun
A wonderful Psychology Today article offered me new ways of understanding play and fun. Researchers have found that unstructured play, where partners have to negotiate the rules, is most important in creating beneficial effects on the prefrontal cortex of our brain. The article states "Play is serious business." My point exactly.
It goes on to say, "This sounds paradoxical and it is, in so much as something that comes so naturally to large-brained mammals (and birds, according to some authorities), that is so much fun, is so vital. Play is a banquet for the brain, a smorgasbord for the senses, providing nourishment for body and spirit: sad then that as a society we seem to be starving ourselves of it." Indeed.
So why is this and what's the impact of not enough fun and play in our lives?
Why Fun And Play Are Important
The research of Stuart Brown, founder and president of the U.S. National Institute for Play and author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul (2009), reveals that severely play-deprived children manifest multiple mental or behavioral disorders. On the flip side, the histories of successful, creative people show social play's vital part in healthy development. It seems that emotional control, social competency, personal resiliency and curiosity accumulate through developmentally suitable play experiences.
Other studies have found that play-deprived children manifest responses on a scale ranging from unhappiness to aggression. What happens to these children as they become adults? Could this lack of play as children possibly be a contributing factor to much of the unhappiness, depression and pent-up anger in our world today?
Creativity Declines Without Play and Fun
Besides the link to possible mental or behavioral disorders, there is also a price to pay in terms of declining creativity. In their book Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation (2013), Bateson and his Cambridge colleague Paul Martin argue that playfulness facilitates originality in nature and society, meaning a lack of it should be a warning sign to educators and academics that there is a dramatic need for change. Perhaps this isn't news to the 33 million plus people who have viewed Sir Ken Robinson's Ted Talk, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?"
"Interventions that provide children with greater opportunities for play make them more creative," Bateson says. "Conversely, fears about safety and the pressures of school curricula are reducing opportunities for free play. These trends are associated with a decline in the ability to come up with new ideas." It's no secret that creatives will rule the future, which makes it all the more crucial that children are given this opportunity to play and have fun. Our future could depend on it.
Your Funprint is a Unique Expression of YOU
Then I came across a piece by author and coach Martha Beck that offered some interesting insights about fun and how it expresses in us individually. She says that each of us is born with an inclination to have fun doing certain types of activities, in certain proportions--you may love doing something I hate and vice versa. I totally got this. Maybe you love partying with lots of people around, yet that isn't at all fun for me, as I prefer a small group of people having one-on-one conversations. Hopefully learning new things.
She refers to the pattern of activities people enjoy most as their "funprint," and likens it to your thumbprint, in that it's unique to you. More and more the research shows that we are most productive, persistent, creative, and flexible when we're engaged in precisely the combination of activities that brings us maximum fun.
The Benefits of Having Fun
Having fun has a list of impressive benefits. It helps to relieve stress, improves brain function, stimulates the mind and contributes to our creativity, improves relationships and our connection to others and keeps us feeling young and energetic. Who wouldn't want their life to include all of these? Is it any wonder then that people living life with little or no enjoyment, are operating at less than their most productive and creative selves? We see this reflected everywhere in our world today.
Beck also says that your funprint isn't at all a frivolous indulgence. It is very important to your soul, as it is the map of your true life, an "instruction manual for your essential purpose, written in the language of joy". Loved reading this, and realized we all would be wise to take fun more seriously.
Taking Fun Seriously
Beck believes that learning to read and respond to your funprint is one of the most crucial things you'll ever do for yourself. Now I see that if learning new things is fun and stimulates my imagination and creativity, then that is perfect for me and who I am. It's part of my overall funprint.
Although we have more leisure time in our lives, we are having less fun. We could reap the benefits throughout our lives if we would give ourselves permission to indulge in some childlike fun. Realizing that I might not have been taking fun seriously, I'm committed to now share freely my own particular brand of fun without hesitation with anyone who asks. And to keep exploring and living my own funprint to the max.
How about you? What does your personal funprint look like and what fun things do you include in your day-to-day life?MORE ON HUFFPOST:
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