It’s funny, isn’t it, how hard it can be to cut out time for having fun. While looking at that overwhelming to-do list, spending time on a hobby, or even meeting up with a friend, can feel like a total waste of time. For sure you should be doing something more important, something more URGENT, right?
In one of the lovely children’s books about the little boy Alfie Atkins (Swedish: Alfons Åberg) Alfie’s father keeps asking his son why he “always has to act so childish”. Alfie, in return, ask his father why he always has to act so “grown-uppish”. In this particular story, Alfie manages to persuade his father to forget about his important grown-up to-do list for a while and play and have fun with his son instead.
So many of us, however, get stuck with our grown-up things all the time, since having fun tends to give us an uncomfortable bad conscience. Just like Alfie, we have been taught from an early age that having fun means being irresponsible, and that important things somehow must include being serious.
The good news is that having fun could be one of the most important things you can do for your health. So let’s ditch that bad conscience, shall we?
Sounds too good to be true, I know, but let me explain
During my year of health, I came across information that the autoimmune thyroid condition, Hashimotos, that I had for 20 years could be improved by following a very strict Paleo diet. The facts seemed convincing, and even though I had been eating mainly vegetarian for 15 years I decided to give it a try.
After several months following this new, and for me very unusual, diet, I went in to the doctor for a check-up. I was hoping to see great improvement in my blood-work, expecting to be able to cut down on my medication. Instead I was devastated to find out that my results had gotten WORSE.
Around this time Mind Over Medicine came into my life. The starting point for this book is explaining why the placebo effect – and it’s opposite nocebo – works, and how we can use this to heal ourselves.
In short, whenever we are in stress, our fight or flight – system gets activated. This means that our body puts all it’s energy into what will help us to survive an emergency – our heart beats faster, blood flow gets directed to our muscles to allow us to run fast etc.
At the same time, everything that isn’t necessary for our short term survival – and this includes almost everything that is important for our long term health, such as our immune system, cellular repair work, our reproductive system and much more – gets shut down.
While this is exactly the right prioritiy when it comes to escaping a hungry lion, it’s easy to see that when stress is more or less constant, as it is for most of us modern folks, we will soon get into trouble.
So where does the fun come in?
In scientific terminology, all those fight or flight-things going on is The stress response. The good news is that we also have a Relaxation response. When this is activated, our body is taking the time to do all that critical repair work. Typically, this happens while we are sleeping. (one of the reasons why sleep is so important!) But there are many other ways we can get the relaxation response going.
The most well known might be to meditate. But this doesn’t have to mean sitting in lotus with a mantra. Actually anything that puts us into that meditative flow will do, whether that is knitting, painting, playing a musical instrument or reading a good book. Seems like those creative pursuits of yours might deserve a higher priority than you first thought 🙂
In order to help our immune- and repair system to work at its best, we need to minimize the time we spend in the stress response and maximize the time we spend in the relaxation response. And then there is the superpower, that will help reduce stress and boost your immune system more than almost anything:
Smiling and laughing activate several parts of the brain, triggering the release of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, all of which are crucial for our ability not only to feel good, but to function well. Some of the benefits include improved sleep quality, digestion, memory and learning abilities, balancing blood pressure, breathing and blood sugar levels, regulating the immune system and reduced muscle tension. If that isn’t a valid argument for having fun, I don’t know what is! (But if you really can’t think of anything to laugh about, know that even a fake smile (such as by putting a pencil between your teeth) will give you some of these benefits!
All these things are important for anyone who wants to stay healthy – and even more if you are battling a disease. When we get sick, typically our stress level rises. We start to think about all the bad things that might come, and who could blame us for that? The problem is, as said, that in order to help our immune system to fight the disease we need to be in the relaxation response as much as possible.
This is why placebo works: The people who get well in spite of getting a false pill BELIEVE that they got the real thing and that it will help them – and thus enter the relaxation response, where their immune system is allowed to do its job properly. And this is why making it a priority to do things you enjoy, and to have fun, will help you heal.
Time to stop being so grown-uppish all the time, huh?
Turns out, what had happened to me, while making all those diet changes, was that food had become a major source of stress and conflict. And it wasn’t just the food – I was shocked to realize I was feeling stressed out almost all the time. Going places or meeting friends had become pretty stressful too, since I always had to plan around food and bring my own stuff. No wonder my healing journey wasn’t going as smooth as expected!
Learning about the dangers of chronic stress, and the benefits of fun and play, I decided to make 2015 my year of FUN.
Now this doesn’t mean I intend to skip my veggies, stop paying the bills and just go partying, but it means that I try to make space for at least one fun, unproductive activity every day – for example I have dug out my saxophone that had been collecting dust in the basement for many years, and started to play again. I’ve also decided with my husband that we will hire a babysitter and go out dancing together once in a while. After all we did meet at the dance floor 🙂 And, most important, I look for all those little reasons to smile, laugh and fool around that come up in my everyday life, together with my children, and with the people I meet.
If you would like to have more fun in your everyday life, how about signing up for my newsletter, to get weekly tips about how to play more, stress less and create a healthy fulfilling life 🙂
Over to you:
What can you do right now to be less grown-uppish and have more fun? Is there something that you used to enjoy doing that you never get around to do anymore? Make a commitment to spend at least 10 minutes/day doing something JUST FOR FUN – and without a bad conscience. And if you feel like it, please share what you will do in the comments 🙂
PS: Want to laugh right away? This had me laughing until I cried the other day… (I admit my humor is just a tiny bit childish 😉 )