At the bottom of my grandparents driveway was an old gumtree, I’m not sure how old, old enough to have massive branches that my brother and I could climb. The best thing was that the tree had a couple of long thick branches growing low and parallel to the ground. We could sit on them, build a treehouse, and use it as a launchpad for exploring the higher branches.
If my brother and I weren’t exploring the gumtree we’d be checking out grandpas’ worm farm, making something in his shed, helping fix the car he was currently working on, pick flowers or fruit (depending on the season), read books, listen to music, bake with grandma or colour in. As a kid there were thousands of ways to have fun…. I couldn’t imagine not having fun!
I don’t remember exactly how or when it happened… a bit like the drip from a tap that hasn’t been fixed, little by little, fun was replaced by homework, chores or jobs around the house. Responsibilities now came into play, expectations of going to family birthdays, school functions, washing up, getting ready for school, grocery shopping. Fun was reserved for the weekend, and then for weekends after everything else was done, and then for special occasions and then. Somehow, at some point I stopped having fun.
Why is it so easy to have fun as a kid, but when you’re an adult it seems so hard?
I didn’t laugh as much, as easily or as fully. I smiled although it was more like the mask of a smile, not a real and genuine smile, more like one that suited the situation. I wasn’t smiling for me, it was like I was smiling to fit in, for everyone else, so that people were not offended by me not smiling to say hello.
Talking to friends they noticed the same about themselves too. Their focus too seemed to have wavered from having fun to taking life more seriously. We all shared a more ‘grown up’ focus on career, health, family, relationships, or getting ahead, which sometimes felt a bit more like keeping afloat.
Looking back, I noticed that I would forget to do the things that I enjoyed, and prioritised doing things that I thought would make me fit in, or to help others, instead of helping myself. Helping others felt great (and I still do it today although once I have filled my own cup first). But back then I would do things for my friends, family or work colleagues, as a distraction from doing something for myself.
It started to feel selfish to have fun, to sit and read a book, go to the movies, watch a TV show just for me. The people around me that did things that they wanted, that they had fun doing were talked about as being ‘selfish’ as not contributing to the family or friends social occasions, at not pulling their weight at home because they were off riding their bike, going skiing, at the movies and so on.
My friends and I got caught up in the monotony of getting up, go to work, get home, eat dinner, fall asleep in front of the TV and repeat! On the weekends I’d tell myself it was fun to occasionally sleep in, but then I’d rush to fill my time in with doing chores, washing, cleaning, preparing for the next week, going to special occasions because it was expected of me, not because it was necessarily fun. Slowly I lost the fun feeling, the carefree, laugh out loud, real fun I used to have.
The Seriousness Of Life Takes Over
I started to feel like I didn’t know who I was anymore. Do you feel like so much has changed in the past few years in your family, perhaps your children are growing up and don’t ‘need’ you so much or now you have children who take up all of your attention and it’s about them having fun first? Perhaps you’ve changed where you live, has your job or career taken a turn and changed for the better or not in the direction you anticipated?
As we grow up there is a certain seriousness to being responsible for earning money, having a job or career, being responsible for our health, our relationships, our family. Responsibility helps us to grow and is necessary in life, however, not at the expense of having any fun. We need both. Responsibility makes fun more worthwhile, more well earned, more rewarding.
Not having so much fun can be influenced by external factors; losing a job, losing loved ones, health, injury, environment changes, moving locations, who we spend time with. But the way that we think can also influence our ability to easily have fun. You might be more like I used to be and tend to see what’s not working for you, what’s missing in your life, what you can’t do rather than what is possible, and what gets in the way of enjoying the fun moments as they arise.
That was until I spent years finding and hanging out with people who saw more of the possibilities in life instead of what was missing, who would find ways to have fun in any situation, and who also took responsibility for themselves and their family. What I learned through spending time with them is that it isn’t the activity that comes first in order to have fun, it’s the emotion of fun and possibility that comes first.
I noticed that previously I was using other people to distract me from what was really going on. I’d forgotten how to feel the emotion of fun. I tried doing things that I used to find fun; cycling, seeing favourite movies, dancing to my favourite songs. I had a glimpse that it was possible to have fun but there was still something getting in the way, preventing me from enjoying life.
Self talk was getting in the way of me experiencing the fun of life
I worked out there were two things getting in the way. Thinking, or overthinking and self-talk, and feeling guilty, that if I had fun I wouldn’t be there for the people I cared for. I wanted to find a way to have fun and increase the connections with the people I valued most. It began with noticing the people around me who laughed easily. I invited them to watch comedy shows, TV and movies with me. Laughing catches on so I figured if I hung out with these people I’d learn how to laugh again. It worked, and I started having a good time with them. They didn’t overthink and just did it and enjoyed it.
I still ‘think’ of course. I still take responsibility for my health, my family, my friends and my career. And I also take responsibility for myself and my emotions. I’ve noticed that if I can have a good time on a regular basis that life is more enjoyable overall, that my relationships are better, that my work is better, that I am calmer and the bonus is that when it comes to the boring day to day stuff, I look for (and find) a way to make it fun! I like cleaning while listening to music, getting dressed up to do the washing, having a dance party when doing the dishes. The more fun I had the more it infused into most situations.
I gave myself a break and realised that as I grew up the way I enjoyed myself changed, and that I had made it harder and harder to have fun. I had rules about when and where and how to have fun. To counter this I started to make it easier to have fun. I made a list of things I could do to have fun everyday easily (colouring in, playing playstation, reading, having a bath, going to the beach or for a hike, cycling, walking barefoot on grass, finding a playground with a swing). Things that I could do occasionally (road trips, visit friends, dinner parties, restaurants) and things that were more organised and required a little more planning or budgeting (parties, travel, concerts).
By writing down the things I could do to have fun, when I got stuck or bored or noticed that I hadn’t been having much fun I’d go to the list and choose something and go do it. It didn’t need to take a lot of time or money or organising, it was more important to do something.
Start your list of things you enjoy, things you’d like to do to see if you enjoy it, make a note of people who you might be able to invite or join in on their fun activities. Share your list with your close friends or family if you like. My friends appreciate knowing what I want to do for fun as often they share similar interests and want someone to join them to share in the fun experiences. Make sure that there is plenty of variety in your list and keep adding to it, have activities that you like to do for fun on your own, and with people.
Create Your Own Fun
When you’re starting out re-discovering your fun maybe to create the behaviour do something each day for 30 minutes (or 15 if 30 is too long to start with) that’s fun for you. Give yourself the gift of time for yourself, while it may take you away from your ‘to-do list’ or away from your family and friends, ultimately filling yourself up is like fitting your own mask before helping the person next to you.
Everyone does fun differently, some people have fun with other people, others enjoy being on their own. And having fun doesn’t always just happen, it takes effort, attention and awareness. When you are doing something that you enjoy, enjoy it! Notice that it is fun! Choose to have fun doing the things you enjoy, and sometimes even while doing things you don’t enjoy so much, and you may notice that fun increasing.