“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw
Having fun is a natural part of life; when we are children it occupies a large proportion of our lives: we play, make-up games, build things, climb trees, play with toys, mess around, giggle, tell jokes, play pranks, have imaginary friends, explore and generally feel okay to spend our time enjoying ourselves (I appreciate that in extreme cases of childhood trauma this isn’t necessarily the case, but as a norm, this is what a human child will do).
Yet for many people the current state of being is far removed from that care-free existence. Whilst some adults have managed to maintain a good balance between responsibility, work and play many others find themselves feeling tired, over-busy, burdened with responsibilities and worries, emotionally distraught through relationship difficulties, financial struggles, or loneliness, and unable to find joy in their lives.
If this resonates with you, you may wonder “how did I get from that small innocent child bursting with life, joy, inquisitiveness and desire to learn and connect with the world, to my current grown-up self?” It can actually be quite shocking, and a bit sad when we realise the disparity between the two stages of our lives. Often the progression is a slow, almost indiscernible downward slope of change as we get older and take on more responsibility and have to deal with more blows to the mind, emotions and soul. Sometimes it is a sudden event that catapults us into feeling a burden of life.
Well the answer to that question is probably complex and multi-layered. Perhaps the more important question is what is the true impact of not having fun, what would happen if we managed to bring more of it into our lives and how we can attain a bit more of it?
Lack of fun can be a result of various factors, some people have been taught to believe that grown-ups need to be ‘Responsible’ and shouldn’t mess around- i.e. messages which covertly or overtly translate to “it’s childish to have fun; you should grow up” ”(equating fun with being silly and unimportant) or “that’s what other more privileged people do who have more time and money” . We can even feel guilty if we do enjoy ourselves - “but I should be concentrating on looking after my family/ earning enough money, caring for my ill family member”, or “It’s not safe for me to relax whilst I have all these problems to work out”. Belief systems such as these can lead us into a life of drudgery and exhaustion, sapping the freshness and excitement out of our dreams.
Alack of fun is often a result of stress and stress is draining— it can suck the life out of us, making us tired and cranky- a far cry from the giggling child. We can feel too tired to engage in the more fun side of life- perhaps we don’t go out or see out friends as much, as we used to, or we stop engaging in new learning opportunities and do less physically. It can become a vicious circle; as we get more tired, worn-down and hopeless, we resign ourselves to the notion that “well this is just how life is” and give up even trying to make changes.
So what would happen if we did find a way to have more fun?
Fun is partly what we do (or have) when we find pleasure and enjoyment, but it is also an attitude of mind- a light-heartedness that we can incorporate into everyday life. Fun affects the mind and body and can help us to connect to others and the world at large. It reduces stress, improves memory and concentration. It can increase our resilience to stress too and reduce the amount of negative thoughts we have.
When we effectively reduce our stress levels, though laughter, enjoyable exercise, etc, this can often provide us with a new boost of vitality. We can feel a new lease of life; see things from a different perspective, less bleakly and more creatively. Play helps heal trauma, helps neurogenesis, helps create new neural pathways and help problem-solving.
Play induces a change in hormone balance, if you are stressed and then play you will find that your level of cortisol (known as the stress hormone) decreases and your dopamine level (the pleasure hormone) increases. Having fun increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical that regulates many of our most basic processes–including sleep patterns, memory, body temperature, and mood. Doing activities you enjoy that help you relax and connect with others naturally increases the body’s serotonin levels.
The reduced cortisol levels and increased serotonin levels that come with having fun mean you’ll enjoy a clearer mind and better memory.
Incorporating playful activities into family life can reduce stress and enhance the dynamic of your collective and individual relationships. Children who are encouraged to play perform better in school. Parents who play are better equipped to manage tension, and there is evidence linking neurogenesis to a reduction in depression (Eisch & Petrik 2012)* – a condition that affects over 120 million people and has an impact on the quality of life for those affected, as well as their entire family.
If you are too tired to have physical fun then I can think of worse ways than watching a good comedy- For me it might be watching David Mitchell and Lee Mack battle it out in on “Would I lie to you” or re-visiting some of the oldies like Morecambe and Wise, and Dad’s Army. Or a real oldie,( before my time I hasten to add), of Gerard Hoffnung telling “the bricklayers lament. But whatever floats your boat. There’s a whole world of comedy out there just for the taking.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFgdhZGLJrY The Best of Morecambe and Wise
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOy2GuaP8Mo Gerard Hoffnung: The bricklayers lament.
*Depression and hippocampal neurogenesis: a road to remission?, Eisch AJ, Petrik D., Science. 2012 Oct 5;338(6103):72-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1222941., 2012