As I’ve shared here on the All You Are blog before, my thirty’s were not what I imagined they would be. I’d planned for them to be about growing a family, settling down in a home, travelling and excelling in my career. Instead, they were a time of unimaginable events, sadness, stress and loss. I know what it feels like to have to dig deep, deeper than you ever have before to find some peace. To smile a genuine smile. To feel hope.
When I came through that time, all I wanted was some sense of normalcy. I didn’t want to go on an around the world trip or binge on ice cream or go on a shopping spree. I just wanted to feel peace and quiet and normal.
I remember once while my (now late) husband was in a hospital in Tucson, a family friend came to visit. As we got ready to go to the hospital one morning, I told her I had these summer dresses in my suitcase that I couldn’t bring myself to wear because I how can I wear such a pretty dress when my husband is so critically ill? And I remember her so clearly saying, Kena, it’s ok to feel good.
It’s OK to feel good.
For years and years, when I would open my eyes in the morning, the first thing I would feel was dread. I would wake up in that state and then either meditate, exercise, journal or read and slowly shift my energy to a better place. Now days, I still wake up with a little bit of melancholy. It is a reminder that while I may not consciously think about those difficult days anymore, they are still very much with me. Those experiences still affect my inner state.
Most of us focus on changing our outer state when we don’t like something about our lives. We think that changing our job, or leaving our relationship or moving to a new city will change how we feel inside. These moves might change how we feel and might even be the right life choice but I’ve learned (and it is most definitely a work-in-progress) that the only way to really shift yourself out of that situation is to also do the inner work. Think of a person who was two hundred and fifty pounds and goes on to lose a hundred of them. They might have made an external change but when they look in the mirror, they still see themselves as that two hundred and fifty-pound person.
There is a very small part of me that, despite all the inner work I have done over the years, still sees myself as the young, ambitious wife who had all her dreams dashed but still managed to keep it together, smile and persevere. I still see myself as the person that people pitied and admired all at the same time. “I don’t know how you do/did it”.
Kena then was measured, and thoughtful and contemplative. She made plans and back-up plans to try to have a sense of control in every possible scenario. She smiled but that smile was often a mask. There were times she felt deeply sorry for herself but also felt helpless to do much about her situation.
Over the years I’ve slowly migrated my self-image away from her.
I am still contemplative and still very oriented towards problem-solving. But I no longer wear a smile as a mask (thank goodness because I naturally smile a lot!). And most importantly, I no longer feel sorry for myself or feel helpless. But I am still very measured. Not in the way that I live at a slow rhythm (the opposite!). But I am very deliberate, thoughtful and somewhat restrained. On one hand, these sound like all positive things. But on the other, it means that having fun doesn’t come easily to me.
Does having fun come easily to you? Really think about it.
There is a difference between doing fun things and having fun.
The former is just carrying out an activity that most people deem as “fun”. The latter involves really enjoying oneself. Feeling lighthearted. Feeling pleasure within.
I’ve climbed the ladder of feelings from the rungs of sadness and stress up to those of peace and contentment, but haven’t quite reached the rung of joyfulness and lighthearted pleasure (although I do have my moments!).
The other evening, my three-year-old daughter and I were playing a game. We were, for a brief moment, having fun, when she exclaimed out of nowhere, “Ah! I love my life. It’s really good”. I stopped in disbelief to hear those words coming out of her mouth. I realized in that moment that while we were both doing a fun activity and enjoying each other’s company, she was having A LOT more fun than I was. And I thought to myself, that is exactly how I want to feel.
Having more fun isn’t necessarily about riding roller coasters or partying with friends or even going on an epic trip (although those would make the list too!). Having more fun for me is about finding pure joy in the everyday. It is about being able to see our lives through the lens of joy - that despite whatever everyday stresses we are dealing with or challenges we are facing, it is still OK and even good to feel good. And beyond just feeling good, we can see that there is a lot to love about our lives. From that place of joy, it is a lot easier to have fun without having to put it on your list. But for now...
Here are six ways to put fun on your to-do list:
1. Do something you love to do
For me, it’s writing, or sitting and talking about life with a good friend, or wandering around neighbourhoods and exploring independent shops and cafes. For my sister, it’s experimenting with make-up, or going out for wonderful dinners with her two best friends, or cooking a healthy meal. What are the simple things that bring you pleasure? Do more of those things regularly.
2. Be with people you enjoy
Make the time and effort to be with people you enjoy. It’s easy to let a packed schedule and errands deprioritize friendships. Find easy ways to spend time together regularly. Meet at a cafe, go for a walk, bring your kids along for a playdate. Ask them to drop over for an hour. Don’t wait until you have the perfect scenario set up to see people that bring you joy.
3. Stay in the moment
Make a worthwhile effort to be in the moment. Put your phone away - in a drawer, in a lockbox, or give to your spouse/partner and ask them to hide it for you. Then allow yourself to fully immerse yourself in the conversation, movie, book or time playing with your kid(s). When you feel like reaching for or checking your phone, check yourself. Why do you need to look at your phone right now? You don’t.
4. Let it be spontaneous
Fun doesn’t always have to be an elaborate pre-planned activity. Instead, choose fun in the moment. On your way to work, follow your nose into the new bakery to buy croissants for your co-workers. Decide to make a dish from your childhood that you loved but that doesn’t fit into any of the new rules for eating (paleo/keto/gluten-free etc). Hit the swings on the way back from the grocery store even if it means you'll be starting dinnner a little late.
5. Don’t wait for the perfect time
One thing I have learned the hard way is that life doesn’t care about your plans. Sad, challenging, and often unexpected things will happen in all of our lives. We need to have fun while we can. Don’t wait to have fun. Have fun while getting dressed in the morning. Have fun on your morning commute. Have fun while planning your week. Have fun NOW. Have fun today.
6. Appreciate hard
The concept of feeling and expressing gratitude has been so overused that it has lost some of its meaning. I prefer (as Gabby Bernstein does in her latest book) to focus on appreciation. Appreciation means to recognize the full worth of something or someone. Synonyms for appreciation include cherish, treasure, value. Instead of just being grateful for what we have, let’s truly appreciate it. We say thank you so often that I wonder how deeply we mean it. Try appreciating all that is good in your life and all the wonderful little things that happen in a day that we take for granted. When we feel appreciative, having fun comes a whole lot easier.
For a long time, all I wanted was to feel good. Now, I’m aiming higher. I’m aiming for a lighthearted pleasure, for delight, for gladness. I’m putting fun at the top of my to-do list. What about you?
“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.” - Emily Dickinson