Why Aren’t You Having Fun?
In my practice as a Chicago Lakeview Counselor, Coach and Therapist, one of the questions I routinely ask new clients is “what do you do for fun?” The vast majority of the time I’m met with a puzzled stare and a long silence. I’ve had some clients tell me we’re not there to talk about fun, they have problems that need to be worked on.
Around this time of year I also get a lot of comments about how the weather is just too bad for any fun activities. But, having fun is a basic human need. Noted psychiatrist William Glasser rated having fun just as important to humans as meeting our basic survival needs, having supportive relationships, and feeling in control of our destiny.
Without having fun on a regular basis, we’re not as effective in other areas of our lives, and our health could even suffer. We all need to regularly do something we enjoy just for fun in order to optimize our physical and mental health. Yet, most of us do not do this. Why is that?
5, No cultural support
We live in a culture that values immediate results and hard work. Fun is often seen as something frivolous and a waste of time. If it doesn’t make money or serve some larger purpose, it’s not valued. Fun is for children and retirees. Think of the commercials you see on TV for places like Disney World, Wisconsin Dells, or Great America.
Who is featured in those commercials? Children, and the message of the commercials is that the reason for adults to go there is solely to take their children there. There’s very little in the ads to entice adults themselves to go, although Disney did run a campaign many years ago enticing retirees, who supposedly have the time and disposable income. Adults are supposed to work and support their families and communities. Fun just is not valued between the ages of 18-65.
4. Competing demands
Because of the culture we live in, we are all busy people. Whether it is work, school, family, or social obligations, it seems like we are on the go more than ever. The supposed increase in convenience that technology was supposed to herald in somehow has made us even more stressed out and busy. When the boss is constantly demanding that everyone stay late, the children need help with homework, there’s a school play next week that they need costumes for, and the church bake sale is next weekend, there is little time for ourselves.
Given that our society demands that we be busy and productive, we often choose to meet all of these other obligations first rather than take time for ourselves even though carving out a couple of hours for an enjoyable activity would likely refresh us and make us more effective at the remaining tasks.
3. No obvious payoff
As I mentioned earlier, having fun helps to promote our physical and mental well-being. While this is great, we often don’t notice it right away, it takes time for those benefits to accrue to a point where we notice that our lives are qualitatively better than they were without regular fun. Unlike going to work, we don’t get a paycheck for every two weeks in which we have fun, or we don’t end up with a clean house or completed school play costumes when we have fun (unless you find doing those things fun, in which case you should be writing this column!).
When there are so many things to do, having fun can seem selfish, and may even be interpreted by other people as being selfish, which could make life more difficult. But, again, taking time out for fun makes us more effective when we return to these important tasks and often will not noticeably delay their completion.
If we think that having fun is incompatible with being productive, it can be easy to feel guilty, especially if we have other people depending on us. Parents are often reluctant to leave their children and go out themselves to do something they enjoy. Or, we may be hesitant to leave our elderly parents that we take care of for a couple of hours to go recharge ourselves by doing something fun.
Bosses often guilt their employees into not taking vacation time or even just half a day off because there is so much to do and the team relies on having everyone there all the time. When we do get vacations, half of it is still often spend on work-related tasks rather than completely getting away and focusing on ourselves and we want to do. When fun is devalued, it is easy to feel like there is something wrong with us for wanting it.
1. Equating fun with money
Perhaps the most common reason I hear from clients about why they do not do anything fun is that “it costs too much money.” Granted, a lot of things do cost money; movie tickets are at record high prices, state and national parks often have admission fees, gas is still relatively expensive just to even get anywhere, and destination trips, such as Disney World are more out of reach of the average American than ever before as global tourism ensures a steady stream of wealthy customers from around the globe who won’t bat an eye at the cost of a ticket, not to mention food and souvenirs.
Perhaps most alarming of all is a study that found that for over half of Americans, the main purpose of a vacation is to go shopping, and mega-malls are seen as top tourist destinations. But, fun is not limited to costly activities. Movies, books, and music are free at libraries, it doesn’t cost anything to walk around the block and talk with neighbors, and preparing a new meal can be cheaper and more fun than going to a fancy restaurant. The most rejuvenating fun is found in the smallest things, even taking a 10 minute break to play Solitaire on the computer every couple of hours can help improve focus on your work tasks. Fun should be measured by how it makes you feel, not how much you spent.
So, how can we combat this anti-fun epidemic? Think about what makes you feel like life is worth living and ask yourself when was the last time you did that. The answer may be surprising and a little discouraging. Start making this a habit, whether it’s daily, weekly, or even monthly, depending on what it is. We need to make fun a priority, otherwise it just won’t happen given all the obligations and responsibilities we have and our culture’s disapproval. Don’t worry so much what others think, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations is one of the primary causes of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
While we do need to remain plugged in to our obligations and those who depend on us, it cannot come at the complete expense of our well-being. And, of course, keep it simple. The small things we do are the ones that we are likely to keep doing and that is what will help us stay healthier, both physically and mentally.