I’ve been thinking about fun recently. Fun and play are such important concepts and necessary for our well being, but we don’t play and have fun well. As a parent of two, it’s not really a surprise that adults don’t know how to play given that we’ve taken play away from our kids, too. We certainly aren’t prioritizing our need for play for anyone.

I run into two main barriers to play when I bring this idea up with people. The first is the idea that we can’t have fun or play until we have worked enough. What “worked enough” means to people varies wildly, but the bottom line is that we have accepted the ideas that work comes before play and that play is only a reward. We aren’t seeing it as something that is necessary on it’s own. I think it’s beyond time we shift that idea and embrace the importance of play and fun. This will take a lot of time and effort to unlearn the lessons that we have learned and shift our cultural thinking around work and play.

When we get past that and accept (at least theoretically) that we could have fun we run straight into the second wall. We don’t know how to play and have fun and/or play makes us really uncomfortable. On an individual level, we need to learn how to embrace experiencing joy, having fun, and playing. First, we have to identify what is fun and then we can figure out how to do it more often.

So, what is fun and play? There are a lot of different ways to think about fun and play. Ultimately, I tend to use play and fun interchangeably to describe those experiences that allow us to feel joy for joy’s sake. There is no other stated purpose and the outcome doesn’t matter. Through play and fun we may be able to connect with others socially, we likely learn new skills, learn new things, but those are secondary to having fun.

The first step for having fun and playing more is identifying what is fun. We are all going to have different things that are fun and enjoyable. Here are some quick ideas for fun:

  • Turn up the music and dance
  • Play a game of hide and seek
  • Build a blanket fort
  • Play a game (but it it only matters if you win or lose it’s not going to be as fun) Build something with blocks or LEGOS Go on a swing
  • Watch kids play and get ideas
  • Splash in the pool
  • Have a water balloon, NERF gun, water gun fight
  • Blow bubbles
  • Watch the clouds
  • Read
  • Draw, color, paint, sketch
  • Play an instrument
  • Tell jokes
  • Take yourself less seriously and embrace your goofy, awkward, silly side
  • Notice what activity you look forward to doing when you are on vacation

So now that we’ve identified some ideas for fun, it’s time for the task of adding them into our day. Sounds simple, except when we realize we have to overcome the cultural norms that fun is only a reward and that a lot of us don’t know how to play anymore.

For this, I recommend being curious with ourselves and paying attention to our thoughts, sensations, and experiences about what gets in the way of us having fun and playing. This will vary greatly from person to person and even from moment to moment. It will take being uncomfortable and being vulnerable in order to relearn how our body feels when we have fun and play. Acknowledge the feelings that come up and name them.

It’s understandable, especially at first, to feel guilt, to be uncomfortable. I encourage everyone to try to add in an activity that seems fun. I encourage you to ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable for following through, or at least be available to talk to you about what makes it hard to follow through on this task. Schedule the fun just like you do other tasks. Eventually when it becomes a habit, schedule other tasks around your play and fun; not vice versa.

And tonight when I am at the pool with my kids, despite having work that “should” be done, I am going to try to remember my own advice and embrace my awkward, goofy self and enjoy the experience of being able to play and have fun with my kids and friends. I’ll notice the guilt and remind myself that play is a necessary part of my day and week. Ultimately, I am a better parent, friend, partner, therapist, and person when I allow myself to be human and whole. I can’t do that if I don’t allow myself to experience joy and fun.

Recommended additional reading/listening: 722?i=1000523736996 (episode transcript:

– Erica Kittleson, MSW, LISW-S