One Saturday night after making herself dinner, Ingrid realized something: she had the whole night to herself, and no idea what to do.
Her kids were in their teens, growing more independent by the day. Her husband had his own hobbies. She'd devoted the last twenty years to work and family—going to law school, raising two kids, working fourteen-hour days. She was constantly working, and when she wasn't, she was cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, or sleeping. But now, she had no clue how to spend her time.
A colleague had invited her to one of my Moticise events called the Wheel of Life. That night, while searching for something to do, Ingrid signed up. That’s how she found herself in a room with nine other women as I asked them to look at different areas of their lives—Relationships, Money, Health, Career, and so on—and reflect on how each one was going.
One of those areas was Fun.
"I can't believe this is a category," Ingrid spoke up. "I never would have thought to consider this a major part of life. Fun has always been an add-on. You know? Something extra. There's always something else to do first." Many other women nodded, as if to say, Same here.
"What's fun for you?" I asked.
She stared at her worksheet, like it was a crystal ball that might give her an answer. "I don't even know anymore," she said. "It's been decades since I did something just for fun."
"I hear that a lot," I said. "What if you did know?"
She laughed. I waited. "I don't know," she said again, and then after a minute, "I used to love singing. I sang in a choir in college, and it was the highlight of my week." When she said that, her face changed from confused and uncertain to glowing.
In the next few weeks, Ingrid joined a jazz choir, bought a keyboard, and started singing and playing every day. She also signed up for a paddle-boarding meet-up—she'd always wanted to try paddle-boarding—and she met new people while having a blast on the river.
When I asked her how having fun changed her, she told me, "There's a new vitality in my life. I feel more alive, more vibrant. I feel better. Is it possible that having fun makes you healthier?"
It's not only possible, it's proven! Scientists have found again and again that play has enormously powerful effects on the brain and body. Here are some of them:
● It physically expands your brain. In the 1960s, Dr. Marion Diamond of UC Berkeley found that rats raised in an enriching, fun environment developed brains that were physically larger compared to their counterparts. Play had caused their brains’ dendrites to expand, which allowed for a higher level of processing information and improved memory and learning.
● It decreases stress. Stress wreaks havoc on our immune systems, nervous systems, and physical and mental health. It causes headaches, fatigue, stomach problems, muscle tension, increased inflammation…the list goes on. When we relieve stress, we not only heal our bodies and minds, but we clear out space in our hearts, making it easier to listen to the answers that are deep inside of us. We return to our center, where our strongest, most peaceful selves live. Having fun is an immediate connection to our inner child, who always knows what's right for us.
● It improves every system in your body. Studies show that laughing--a natural byproduct of play--stimulates your muscles, boosts oxygen intake, releases endorphins, shuts down the stress response, and stimulates circulation. And those are just the short-term benefits! Over time, it strengthens your immune system, improves your mood, releases natural pain killers, and enhances your quality of life. My husband likes to watch stand-up comedians when he’s stressed - he’ll find a video online, watch for a few minutes, then get back to work.
But wait—what exactly is fun?
If you're like Ingrid (and many other adults), you might have a hard time answering the question, "What's fun for you?"
But, like Ingrid, you do know the answer. I promise.
Here are some (fun, of course) ways to tap into your most playful self.
1. What did you love to do as a kid? As Carl Jung put it, “What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key to your earthly pursuits?” When I was younger, I loved playing outside. I played a ton of kickball—and today, I still love playing kickball with my family. It’s our family get-together tradition.
How about you? Did you love art or music class? How did you spend your free time? Chances are, those activities will still be fun for you – even if it’s a little scary to try after so many years.
2. Schedule time for yourself – and honor it. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron asks readers to book one hour a week for themselves to do something they love – just for fun. She calls it your “Artist’s Date.” Go swimming, go hiking, go shopping (of course, this is a little harder during a pandemic…get creative, though!). Don’t do what you think you should do. Do what is really, truly fun for you.
When you give yourself this gift, Cameron says, you tap into your true center, which will have ripple effects throughout your entire life. You’ll grow more accustomed to listening to your intuition, honoring your core values, and yes, bringing more fun into your life.
3. Think big. Try this: get a pen and paper, set a timer for 5 minutes, and write down everything you’ve ever thought might be fun. Sky diving, snorkeling, spelunking, baking, finger painting, acting, basket weaving…go crazy! Nothing is too big or too small.
The fact is, fun is like a muscle. The more we use it, the easier it gets. When we’ve gone years (or even decades) without cultivating fun in our lives, it might feel totally foreign. So flex it. Make lists of things you want to try. Actively look for times and ways you can do those things. If you can, go do them.
4. Move your body. Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. Try moving your body in new, fun ways. Maybe that’s dancing, or maybe that’s skipping down the block. Maybe it’s making up silly walks with your kids. Get active in a fun way, and see where it takes you!
For a quick, guided way to try this step, check out my Moti Minute on Fun here >>
Fun is such an integral piece of our lives, even – no especially – when times are as difficult and uncertain as they are now. More than ever, during a global health crisis and national upheaval, we need to give time to our inner children to play.
Stay safe, have fun, and shine.
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