Are We Having Fun Yet?
Now is a great time to be less serious.
Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash
It was the third and final interview for a management position at a prestigious institution. I sat in a chair, flanked on three sides by a dozen men and women whose mission was to sniff out whether I had the mettle to handle the job. “How would you measure whether you’re successful?” asked the chairman of the delegation. “One, maintaining high quality,” I answered. “Two, excellent customer service. And third, whether we’re having fun.”
“Fun?” the chairman scoffed, in that tone that indicated I had just uttered an imbecility. “That has nothing to do with this job.”
Clearly, that job and I were never meant for one another. My style did not complement that of the chairman, who relied heavily on management by intimidation. But my measure of success didn’t seem so outrageous to me. I always tried to bring a sense of fun into the workplace. It’s good for teamwork, good for morale, good for relieving high tension.
I have written recently about the importance of having a purpose in your latter years. Fun may be just as important to a good life. What’s the point of living if you’re not having fun?
The research on this is sketchy, apparently because few researchers regard fun as a serious topic of study. Travis Tae Oh, one of the few scientists who has approached the topic, concludes that we experience fun as “hedonic engagement” and a “sense of liberation.” He describes hedonic engagement as “an active involvement and immersion into an activity that is intended for pure enjoyment.”
Fun and Flow
That rang some bells for me. It reminded me of the work of He Whose Name Cannot Be Spelled (actually it’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, but you see what I mean). M.C. was the first to theorize about the flow experience, that state of mind when a person is fully immersed in an activity and every thought, action and movement feels totally natural and right. It’s the experience of feeling at one with the activity, or “in the zone,” whether it’s writing, painting, playing basketball, or solving a tricky problem. That moment of flow is having fun in its purest form.
There are many ways to have fun that don’t bring us into a flow state. But the point is, fun is good for us. It makes life richer and more enjoyable. And if not now, when?
The playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we’re old. We grow old because we stop playing.” (This wisdom is available on a T-shirt from Etsy or Café Press.) I am on a mission to age without growing old by having all the fun I can, while I can.
Everyone has their own standards for what’s fun. But here are a few starter suggestions:
· Learn something new
· Travel somewhere you’ve never been
· Pick up a forgotten hobby, or try a new one
· Spend time in nature
· Join a book club
· Visit museums
· Sit on a beach drinking pina coladas
One more thing: The second part of Oh’s definition of fun is “a sense of liberation.” Friends, at this stage in our lives, we can be all about liberation. Liberation from other people’s expectations of what is proper, dignified, appropriate, yada yada yada. Liberation from our own fear of embarrassment or fear of failure. When you’ve lived as long as we have, what’s a little failure in the scheme of things? Just something to laugh about, at worst; at best, another great story.
So why not get out and live a little?
When you’re looking for another perspective on the issues of aging with joy and purpose, I heartily recommend seventysomething, the newsletter of my friend Susie Kaufman. She is also the author of a collection of short essays, Twilight Time: Aging in Amazement. Susie writes thoughtful, evocative prose that I think you’ll find appealing and resonant. I’m also excited to announce that Susie will be reading one of her essays on the next The Endgame podcast, which will be available next week.
Speaking of podcasts…
My sincere thanks to all who downloaded the first two podcasts and provided feedback. I promise there will be a number of refinements, based on your suggestions.
Just to clarify, this newsletter will continue to arrive in your email weekly. The two podcasts each month are in addition, not a substitution. I hope the podcasts will deliver useful information that supplements and deepens what the newsletter can provide. That’s the plan, anyway. Please continue to let me know your thoughts.