Bite-sized chunks of wisdom about self-leadership for you to chew on.
Fun and the Art of Enjoying Life When Things Are Tough
Podcast Opening over Theme Music:
Hello and welcome. This is Kate's Nuggets, the podcast where I share bite-size nuggets of wisdom about self-leadership. I am your host, Kate Arms. I invite you to listen lightly, let these ideas wash over you. Take what you take and let the rest go. You can always come back and listen again.
Today I want to talk about fun and the art of enjoying life. Even when things feel tough right now, things feel tough all across the world. Many of us had difficulties in life before the coronavirus hit, and many of us have had lives that felt reasonably easy, upended, and disrupted by the pandemic. In both cases, things feel stressful right now. The base level of worry, anxiety, stress is higher than it was two months ago, and for some people it wasn't starting from a very good beginning.
When we are under stress, it is much easier for us to fall into fear-based behaviors than when we are not stressed. When we armor up to protect ourselves against threat, we tend to find life serious, hard work. We feel like we have to hustle and strive and struggle. Play and rest and fun and relaxation are often seen as frivolous or distractions from being effective or efficient. People who play when things are tough are often seen as irresponsible.
Many of us learned to be hardworking, driven, and effortful even when things were good, and even that is a way of being armored up and defensive. To have fun under any circumstance, we need to embrace play, improvisation, and laughter. We need to find a way to seeing that life unfolds rather than us having to drive life. And this requires us to manage our energy to rest, renew, to have rhythms of work and play.
This is at the heart of what people are talking about when they talk about work life/harmony, work/life balance or integration, that rest, renewal, and rhythm. But if we don't do it from a spirit of playfulness and curiosity, it won't be fun. And if we do it from a spirit of playfulness and curiosity, it can be fun even while it is incredibly challenging and deeply hard work.
There are some people right now for whom the level of challenge that they have now has made them come alive, has invigorated them, and make them feel like they are actually functioning at peak performance. If this is not you, don't let that shame you.
The people who are thriving and feeling like they're functioning at peak performance right now have several things going for them. Almost certainly they have a skill set that they have honed over years that right now is of service, that right now their skills are in demand. If your skills are not the ones that are most highly in demand right now, that's bad luck. That's not bad planning, it's bad luck.
The other thing people who are thriving right now have is a drive to improvise from whatever the world has presented. They are accepting the world as it is and playing with it. And because they are playing with the world as it comes to them, accepting every offer that the world makes and saying "Yes, and I will do this with it," it becomes fun even in the midst of challenge.
So, what is play? In his book titled Play. Dr. Stuart Brown defines play as an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and suspends self-consciousness and a sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.
What do you do in your life that makes you want to do it again? Because it is self-motivating. You are motivated in the process of doing it to do it again. What is it you do that suspends your self-consciousness and relieves you of a sense of time? What gets you into a sense of flow and provides enjoyment that is apparently purposeless?
The thing about a spirit of play is play is done for its own sake and effectiveness and task accomplishment is a byproduct. Brown goes on to describe a few different kinds of play that people might engage in. Play that involves nonsense, joking, and making silly sounds, or there's play that involves pushing your body and feeling the result. Athletes, dancers, and martial artists. Some people play through exploration, trying new things, going to new places or exploring other people's points of view, other cultures, and other ways of seeing the world. Some people play competitively. They want a game with specific rules and an outcome that determines a winner or loser.
Others like making events happen. Organizers give parties and put together group events. Some people play by collecting things, whether it is Pokemon through playing Pokemon Go or rocks from places they've walked or bottle caps or stamps.
Some people play by making things, creating things, sculptures or gardens or sewing. Others tell stories and they can tell stories in any form. All of these things can of course be combined in many different ways. Think about which of these ways of engaging with the world tend to bring you joy. At a time when life was good, which of these kinds of play did you engage in? Which ones did you do that motivated you and you did them and wanted to do them again because the process was so much fun?
The invitation in a stressful time is to find a way to use that impulse. If you are a jokester, find a way to be irreverent, to laugh at yourself, at the foibles of the human condition, of the ridiculous things that exist always, because there are always ridiculous things to laugh at. If you are a mover, find something, whether it is dancing in your living room or going for a long walk or you could, like me, go for a very, very long series of walks. I am doing a virtual race across Tennessee this summer, months of walking. If you are someone who likes games, find online board games and card games and trivia games. There are so many games that you can play online, multiplayer video games, word puzzle that you can play with others or with yourself. If you're a party planner, plan a Zoom party. Plan a scavenger hunt. Plan a parade.
The thing about all these different kinds of activities is just like anything else. We can do these from a spirit of working hard and fear or from a spirit of playfulness, curiosity, and love, and to really have fun, you need to find a way to do them from love.
Some dangers to watch out for. Watch your sense of humor. Are you laughing in a way that refreshes or in a way that interferes with longer-term relationships?
Much humor is actually harmful to relationships. Sarcasm, which is based on mocking others and playing status games, interferes with relationships, making jokes at the people who are weaker than you or less fortunate than you. Punching down weakens relationships. Punching up can strengthen relationships, but can be dangerous. Teasing the people above you can take the power out of the hierarchy, and it can make it easier for you to see them as human beings. And if you can take the power dynamic out of a hierarchical relationship and treat each other as equals as people, there's more possibility for fun and respect and trust and playfulness in that relationship.
We all know people who get entertainment in ways that separate them from others. Think of the people that you have known in the past who mocked other people, who make jokes about other people, who throw controversial things into a group of people just to watch them argue, who sit back and watch the firework because it's fun for them. The people who when putting on an event do it because they want accolades and fans and not because it delights them to do it. People who collect fans may enjoy the process of doing what gets them the fan, but if they're doing it because they need fans, it's not playful. It comes from a place of fear.
So, as you look for ways to have fun, the trick is to really focus on the things that delight you and do them because they delight you and to ignore the impact that they have on other people in terms of do they want to join you or do they like it? Notice the impact that it has on your relationship. If it brings you closer together, if they share more freely and wholly of themselves as a result of joining you in your laugh, then you're probably coming from love, but only you can know for sure.
It's the apparent purposelessness of play that I invite you to cultivate. Do it for its own sake because it makes you feel like you want to do it again. Do the things that you would do even if nobody else was around to see you do them. The ones that don't get you glory, the ones that maybe you're a little embarrassed to share with some people that you do, but you delight in them anyway. The ones that people refer to as guilty pleasures, they're just pleasures. Drop the guilt and do the pleasurable thing.
There's a voice in your head perhaps that says, "We're in the middle of a global pandemic. This should be serious. This is a serious time." That's your voice of fear. Yes, we are in the time of a global pandemic, and simultaneously there can be love and fun and play. And when we cultivate a playful approach to whatever we're doing, improvisationally engaging creativity, we manage to have fun despite the difficulties.
Some of us even have fun because playfully engaging in the difficulties actually brings out parts of us that are alive and that feel alive, and that is what we all want - to feel alive. So, I invite you to play, to seek out and create fun in the ways that will matter to you. Be willing to look like a fool because the task that others judge as foolish delights you for its own sake and harms no one. If you're really coming from a place of love and compassion, laughter and irreverence, we've all experienced in-jokes, some of which are self-referential, the ones where we insult ourselves compassionately and kindly, the same jokes that offend us when people who aren't part of that group say them because we worry that they do not say them with the same compassion and understanding that we have.
In this time of global stress, we can find the jokes that we can share as humans, that will define us as the human race, as the group. What might that make? Just because there's a global pandemic does not mean we have to give up on fun. In fact, to be creative and innovative and figure out how to get through this the best way possible, we need the creativity that is only accessible to us when we are lighthearted and find love and openness.
Think of the creative ideas that you've had in the shower or while on a long walk or doing something totally different than what you were focused on. Play makes opportunities for just those kinds of thoughts. Play might be apparently purposeless, but the byproduct of play is creativity and aliveness. And that's fun.
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Here's to Thriving! Catch you next time.
Kate's Nuggets is a Signal Fire Coaching production. The music is adapted under license from Heroic Age by Kevin McLeod.