WHATEVER HAPPENED TO FUN?
If those days of loopy spontaneity are in the distant past, it’s time to rediscover your devil-may-care self.
Remember fun? We used to have loads of it. Back when we were young and single, carefree and surrounded by equally fun people. Looking back, at certain golden times in our lives it felt like the falling-down-laughing never stopped. Except of course it did stop because we were also plagued with worries like “Why is X being weird with me?” and “How come I never get promoted?”, “Why don’t my relationships last?” and “Am I fat?”. But still, in spite of this, we did have some larks.
“Can we plan for fun? Yes we damn well can – and should.”
So what does fun look like now we’re older and, dare I say it, a tad less carefree? Is fun something that happens by chance, if we’re lucky – a case of serendipity? Or is it something we can plan for?
Life coach and therapist Chrissy Reeves says that for a lot of us, fun just isn’t even in the equation. “Many of my female clients are so busy trying to be taken seriously in their careers that they’ve forgotten what fun is. There’s no joy in their lives because they’re so hard-working and pressured. Women have to dress right and work that bit harder to be taken seriously in the workplace. These women come to me burnt out and tired and they’re definitely not having much fun”.
Whatever your job title, ‘grown up’ responsibilities like bills to pay, a home to manage and maybe becoming a parent and the accompanying exhaustion and stress can also suck spontaneity and fun out of us for a while. Of course we have plenty of unbridled laughs with our kids – or our friends’ children and nieces and nephews – when they’re little. But as they get older, let’s face it we’re not usually the ones they want to be having fun with. And our world can become hideously calm and quiet.
“I didn’t want to feel the fear of an unfamiliar challenge and possible humiliation.”
But still, we all can try new things, right? Except then comes another anti-fun factor – embarrassment. “Not wanting to make a fool of ourselves, we become risk-averse and self-conscious, saying ‘Oh I’ll look like an idiot,’ or ‘I’m too old to do that’. “So many things are keeping us organised, on time and tidy in mid life that there’s not much fun if we don’t break out of that strait jacket,” says Chrissy.
For me the risk-aversion started a long time ago, probably in my early 20s, when I stopped trying new and unfamiliar things. I didn’t want to be the rubbish one that couldn’t do it, like in PE at school, so I never tried surfing, or skiing. Too vain to get sweaty and wet. Too self-conscious. Didn’t want to get chlorine on my highlighted hair and turn it green, so I didn’t bother to master the front crawl. Wouldn’t go on scary theme park rides. Wouldn’t try oysters or snails or calamari even though people said they were delicious. I didn’t want to feel the fear of an unfamiliar challenge and possible humiliation. So for a long time I watched others from the sidelines. Jealously.
Then a few years ago we went on holiday with a few other families. All the kids and some of the dads were going bodyboarding. And when another mum stood up and started heading for the waves, my son said “Come on Mummy, you can do it”. I thought “What’s the worst thing that can happen? I make a fool of myself? At least I won’t be watching from the beach, wishing I’d joined in”. So I went body boarding with the other mum and our kids. It wasn’t easy and I swallowed pints of seawater and definitely lost my dignity a few times. But it was the most fun – uncontrolled fun – I’d had in years. I felt amazing afterwards.
“We need to open ourselves up to spontaneity in our adult lives,” says Chrissy. “This means making ourselves available to opportunities and not automatically saying no to what comes along just because there isn’t a tangible outcome to it. We can do things just because. For the hell of it. For a bit of ‘Why not?”. So if someone says ‘Do you want to come rollerskating, don’t think ‘Oh I can’t because I have to be home at this time and need to do X Y and Z’ when rollerskating actually might be the funnest thing you do all year”.
“We can do things just because. For the hell of it.”
And there are genuine benefits to be had from fun, apart from the joyful bit. Like the endorphins that fire off in our brain, changing its chemistry. “We should all try to have some fun every day,” says Chrissy. “Laughter is good for you and the more you do it the better you feel. Some people are adrenaline junkies who love feeling scared and jumping off cliffs. Some like safer activities, like learning to dance or make stuff. You don’t have to be hurling yourself out of an aeroplane to change your brain’s chemistry – you can just take baby steps and see what works for you. It’s so important for our mental health to let some fun into the equation, rather than sticking with safety and routine”.
What’s more, we all need a laugh right now. With so much grim news and fear about the future, it feels like everyone’s clinging to comedy for a bit of a mental break. Judging by the popularity of shows like Fleabag, Derry Girls and Catastrophe in the last few months, everyone is drawn humour – because to laugh is the biggest escape. Especially if we’re menopausal, which can be a very lonely and fun-free time indeed.
So can we plan for fun? Yes we damn well can – and should. The benefit of maturity is knowing what makes us happy – not worrying about what’s ‘cool’ – and ensuring we make time and room for pleasure. From small things like gigs and shows to huge things like planning a planet-spanning adventure. From booking family holidays packed with challenging activities (kite-surfing anyone?) to learning to tango or spending your days rifling through car boot sales – whatever floats your boat make sure it’s not only on your radar but in your diary.
“Allow yourself to have fun, even if that means making a fool of yourself.”
And try new things. Look for fun and discover your adventurous side. Go on the zip wire. Learn to crochet. Be the first on the dance floor. Do something slightly outside your comfort zone. Allow yourself to have fun, even if that means not being good at it and making a fool of yourself. “No one’s looking, no one cares – most people are so busy worrying about their own stuff. They’re not looking at you,” says Chrissy.
Since the bodyboarding day, I try everything. Climb the mountain, play the match, go on the scary fairground ride, take helicopters over the Thames, eat the weird looking sea food. OK so some people genuinely hate seafood and don’t have a head for heights, but trying things that scare or challenge us can work wonders for how we feel about ourselves. What’s the worst thing that can happen?
Words: Marina Gask. Huge thanks to the Phrasee team for the helicopter ride. Scary but genuinely fun.