Last week I enjoyed a video a friend sent me of gorillas romping in heaps of fallen leaves. Riding the exercise bike a few minutes later, I turned on the television and landed on an enchanting nature show featuring animals at play—lion cubs, penguins, puppies, dolphins. After that, on my way up the stairs, I was ambushed by my spring-crazed cat. He had been hiding behind a door, waiting for me. I took these events as a sign, a reminder that I had a whole day ahead of me in which to have fun, or not.
At the plant nursery where I work there is an arching wooden bridge. In the winter it spans a river of rainwater; in the summer it turns whimsical, serving no function other than to delight the children who are compelled to run over it, again and again. Another attraction are the fountains. Children are charmed by water and will head for it like baby sea turtles. Their joyful shrieks carry across the nursery as they thrust their hands into the basins and splash the water this way and that. Color enchants them, too. They always make a beeline for the water wands, which come in an assortment of delicious colors. Product designers understand that color is fun, and even adults can’t resist that rainbow display. We sell a lot of water wands.
Children are masters of play. I’ve often wondered why this is so, why we lose the capacity for fun as we get older. We have our grown-up games of course—Scrabble and poker, Wii and Xbox, tennis and bowling. But these are games with an end point, a goal. Even individual sports like hang-gliding or cliff jumping require planning and risk assessment, a competition with oneself.
Children don’t pause to consider themselves; they just plunge into whatever catches their attention. They do not know that being alive means being in peril. They have no idea that their chances are slimming, that summers are not long, that one day they won’t be here. When they start skipping, when they make stone soup, when they build forts out of chairs and blankets, they are living in the only realm they will ever own. Running without reins, they are free because they don’t know it.
While we may no longer feel the urge to build forts or splash in fountains, we adults still lose ourselves now and then. Alone in our homes, we might break out in dance, or grab a spatula and start singing into it. In quieter moments, we can disappear into our passions: fossil collecting, product design, painting. As a writer, I lose myself not only in composition, but in research as well. There are many way to escape the tyranny of time, if only for a few hours.
It is said that a person who is living well makes no distinction between her work and her play, and this is certainly true for those lucky enough to love their jobs. Most of us can’t make that claim. We labor to pay the bills, and then we labor at home, and what free time we have is spent driving from one store or business to another. After a few months of this, we reward ourselves with a vacation that never feels adequate because we have leveraged too much on it.
I’m wondering if we can trick our stodgy selves by wringing more joy out of our daily lives, if, like children, we could make our own fun? We could start small, maybe with accessories, adding a scarf, a lapel pin. We could pour our coffee into china instead of a mug. Taking a cue from Martha Stewart, we could decorate the dining room table with fall leaves and fruit. We could smile at everyone we encounter and see what they do. We could make it a game.
There’s a woman in town who drives an old Cadillac on which she has glued hundreds of tiny toys. There is a couple down the street who have turned their front yard into a fairyland of handmade stone castles. The woman next door takes photos of neighborhood dogs, then turns them into Christmas ornaments she gives to the owners.
How hard could it be to have a little more fun each day? A child can do it.