Isn’t that really what we all want to be when we grow up? Isn’t it the American way to “pursue happiness?” How, exactly, does one do that?
There is a quote I really like: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” I truly think that this is the key to feeling (and possibly looking) younger, longer. Play is an essential task – one that kids have mastered, but too many adults have forgotten how to do. It is the essence of Peter Pan, the idea of “not growing up,” the eternal child. This is not to say that we should all act childish (at least not in a negative sense), but there are benefits to seeing the world through a child’s eyes.
A child sees most things as being positive; they are new and exciting. The fact that so many adults lose this wonderment and become jaded is just plain sad. More grown-ups should take time to play. Statistics show that we work too many hours. Even on vacation, many are still in touch with the office, thanks to our dependence on technology. This, however, is an entirely separate conversation. Today, I want to focus on the positives.
Play is fun. It can be competitive or lazy. It can mean running around outside or sitting at a table indoors. However you look at it, it is most often social, not solitary. Playing is good for you. One rarely regrets play (you can regret losing, or how well you performed, but not usually that you took the time to play). I believe that the positive effects of play can also be gotten vicariously. Think of watching sporting events, kids playing in the backyard or on the playground, animals playing (all those YouTube videos), or my personal favorite – a dad playing with his kids.
I think there is nothing sexier than a man spending time playing with his children – not the okay, I’ll-play-one-more-round-of-Candyland-to-shut-you-up kind of play, but the all-in, let’s-have-a-great-time, I’m-really-enjoying-your-company kind of play. Many times I have enjoyed simply sitting back and watching. Amazingly enough, it has sometimes taken a while for any of them to notice me and invite me to join in. One such incident was camping in Shenandoah, where the five of them were playing Frisbee. Even getting the Frisbee off the bathroom roof became a game; figuring out who was light enough to get up there to retrieve it, yet coordinated enough to not fall off the roof, then back into the game again until it was too dark to see. (This one I was lucky enough to capture in photos.)
I regret that these moments come too infrequently. “Real life” has a way of getting in the way. Scheduling play never really seems to work – it ends up being forced and not fun. I have found that creating opportunities sometimes works better, (such as planning a weekend camping with nothing but each other to amuse ourselves) but as they all get older, their interests are more diverse and it has become more challenging. The demands of multiple work schedules and schoolwork make it even harder.
Happiness seems especially elusive in today’s world, with violent acts and natural disasters monopolizing the news and the job situation still uncertain, even for those with jobs. I have noticed that today’s teenagers have a difficult time doing nothing; it seems to make them anxious. Doing nothing was a given in my childhood, and looking back at it, a gift. Having nothing to do meant we created something to do and though it was sometimes goofy, it was always fun.
Another observation I have made is that happiness is frequently contagious. Spending time with happy people can make us happier, if we let it. I have a Bible quote posted on my fridge that I cut out of a church bulletin: “When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow” (Romans 12:15). We should take time to celebrate life’s moments, big and small.
In today’s cyber world, it is tempting to make comparisons. Reading your friends’ Facebook posts and comparing their “exciting” lives with your own can be a downer, that is, until you realize that they are only posting the positives. After all, who wants to share all of your everyday struggles with the world? It is also easy to dwell on the negatives and get dragged down in unhappiness (not what I think Romans is recommending). This is what we really need to change.
In a perfect world, we could all get jobs that make us happy, all the time, and then come home to our perfect families who also make us happy all the time, and live happily ever after… (how Stepford-ish)
But we live in an imperfect world and have lots of sayings to make us feel better about it. Hardships make us stronger, failure helps us learn, storms make us appreciate the calm, blah, blah, blah. It’s not that I don’t believe all this, I do, but it is tough sometimes being surrounded by sayings from a Hallmark card, especially when you aren’t feeling the happy.
Me, I want to be happy and I try to find the happiness in most things I do. My glass is (usually) half full, but sometimes I need reminders of why. A wise woman I know suggested that everyone should make a list of what makes them happy and refer back to it when needed (and to share it with loved ones so that they will know what makes you happy and not have to guess). A good suggestion (and another opportunity to make a list, yay!) I think I will refer to this list as my “Happiness Triggers.” This was more difficult than I had expected, so I have posted it separately and plan to add to it.