I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
One of the common activities for children in America is to play a sport. The competition, skill, friendships, teamwork—all of these combine to make a season of engaging activity for kids. Yet interestingly, over 70% of children stop playing organized sports by age 13. The reason the vast majority of children indicate they quitting sports is the same—“It’s just not fun anymore.” In fact, as children get older, and expectations on their playing skill increases, most sports turn from a fun escape into a developmental program to produce student-athletes. The fact is, our culture simply doesn’t support older kids playing sports for the fun of it.
From an early age, into teen years, and certainly progressing into adulthood, we are forgetting how to have fun. Life is meant to have a joyful, lighthearted, entertaining side. Kids were meant to play, to use their imaginations, to live in the moment. It’s an element that’s expected in a young person. But for some reason we spend adolescent and early adult years driving it completely from our minds. We try to replace it with entertainment—distractions where we become an audience to a show, or an event. But that isn’t the same as engaging in fun.
In Ecclesiastes the Bible addresses the concept of fun, calling it a gift of God, and encouraging everyone to have a good dose of it while they are alive. Let me suggest three important ways to bring a dose of fun into your life. These form a prescription for a life that not only makes a difference, but is joy-filled at its essence.
Play with your children. This is not just a suggestion for those with young children. Certainly play with them, not only because it’s healthy for you, but because they desire your company in their play. And if your children are teens or adults, why are you not looking at play in a similar manner? Build a sand castle, do a coloring book together, go to a movie, make homemade ice cream, go to the local playground, take the family to the pool for the afternoon, take an afternoon off from the office and just show up to do whatever your family thinks up.
Children are a gift from God and among those reasons is that they remind us how fun creation was meant to be. Don’t allow your answer to “Daddy will you play with me?” be “Sorry, I have to work.” Find ways in your schedule and lifestyle to let that phrase be one which launches you into a time of engaging your child or children, no matter what their age.
Rekindle your own imagination. Sir Ken Robinson gave a TED talk a number of years ago explaining how our education system contains processes that move people away from the creative arts as they move from kindergarten to primary school to college. Society values the analytical areas (math, English, science) over the artistic ones (drama, dance, art). At a young age we imagine ourselves as zookeepers, or musicians, or artists, or mountain climbers. But as we enter adolescence our minds gravitate toward lawyer, or salesman, or banker.
Take time in your day to imagine pockets of life outside of your normal. Part of healthy play is imagining what could be, and if you have even minimal means, to enjoy aspects of those dreams in your own life. Tour a fire station, trying learning to play the guitar, take an adventure vacation, learn to scuba dive, read a travel book, plan a room makeover with your spouse. God did not give us an imagination to simply leave our ideas on the cutting room floor. Making some of those dreams a reality is a playful engagement of the mind and body.
Embrace a plan of unplanning. Now we get to the core of why most adults don’t play. We simply don’t make the time. The demands of home, marriage and work won’t allow a break to engage in playful behavior. And then there are the crises of life—a child’s broken arm at soccer, the $300 issue with the car’s transmission, the last minute presentation that must be done by tomorrow. Life puts just about everything ahead of play.
So plan for play time. Block it out and make it a priority. Play will not become a part of your life until you determine to make it a part. Enjoyable times of play are a key to good mental health. Ensure that your play is not in isolation. Play with more people—your family and friends, neighbors, the folks from church, other couples from the gym. Take a cooking class, have a backyard barbecue, binge watch a season of your favorite show, have a morning run with the neighbors. There are so many ways to involve others in the enjoyable recreational elements of life.
Australian nurse Bonnie Ware spent years next to patients on their death beds. As she cared for them in the last 10-12 weeks of their lives, she recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog. That blog later became a book entitled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”. In the clarity people obtained in their final days on earth, there was no mention of bungee jumps, more sex or that beach house. Rather, at the top was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Wrote Ware, “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
The work is important. Providing is important. Security is important. Those things should not choke out the playfulness and dreaminess of the mind. Rather, let those responsibilities you must attend to enable and provide balance for the playful escapes and important relationships that your heart desires. Life is all too short. Don’t forget to have fun.