play time (or, THP: Chapter Five)

(This is part five in a series about The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  To start at the beginning, click here. )

Yet again, Gretchen strikes a chord with me when she says, “I prepared to work doggedly  at fun and to be serious about joking around.”  I have to actually WORK at having ‘fun,’ and ‘joking around’ doesn’t even sound like much fun to me at all.  Sometimes, I’m a regular old stick in the mud.  

Needless to say, happiness (in part) comes from how we spend our leisure time.  Or, at least it should, and I think that I often confuse ‘productivity’ with ‘leisure,’ as they both bring me happiness.  Apparently, studies show that simply not feeling ‘bad’ isn’t the same as feeling ‘happy.’  While crossing items off my to-do list does bring me ‘happiness,’ it’s often because I’ve removed the task that was creating stress, rather than achieving any actual enjoyment. Therefore, I need to actually DO something specifically for the sake of having fun.

Her first task was ‘to find more fun.’  Gretchen talks about struggling with activities she actually finds fun, versus activities she ‘wishes’ she found fun.  I can empathize, as I often wish I found certain things fun, like camping or discussing politics.  It’s not that I hate camping, I simply find other things more fun and worth my time.  As for politics (aside from the polarizing effect it can have on a room), I’m simply often not well versed enough to add anything original to the conversation (or argument, as the case may be), nor do I want to spend my leisure time reading the Drudge Report (I have Andrew for that).

Adorably, Gretchen realized that reading children’s literature brought her happiness, and even started a book club to read such works as Little Women and The Golden Compass. While I don’t appreciate children’s literature quite that much (or perhaps haven’t discovered that I do, as her quest sounded downright dreamy), I loved her idea.  Unsurprisingly, she found others who enjoyed it as much as she did.  So, she got to do something that brought her happiness, and also be part of a group, both of which increase ones’ happiness.

Perhaps the most important change in how I ‘find more fun,’ is remembering what I did for fun AS A KID.  Someone asked this of Gretchen, and she remembered how much she enjoyed filling blank books with quotes, magazine clippings and other memorabilia.  It sounds a lot like how I decorated a cabinet I used as a bedside table–filled with books, but also decorated with hanging origami cranes, photos and ‘treasures’ in every nook and cranny.

A great deal of my childhood was spent reading, writing and drawing.  My time for pleasure reading dwindled in college, and other than the blog, I haven’t pursued much writing for fun or professionally.  What gives?  Well, see paragraph two, above.  Because I consider both of those activities as ‘leisure,’ they sink to the bottom of the to-do list every day.  It’s a miracle if I crack open a book in the minutes before bed.  And I’m sure every one of you can relate.  Who has time to read these days?

Well, I’ve had to start making the time.  If only for a few minutes before turning off the light at night, I often choose to read a book instead of scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.  It’s a conscious decision about how to spend my time, and I think we all would benefit from trading some of the time we spend on social media for more edifying activities.

Other things Gretchen did to increase her happiness during her leisure time included ‘taking time to be silly,’ and ‘going off the path.’  Thankfully, I don’t have many needs for silliness (I’m NOT a goofy person), but I do appreciate broadening my horizons.

Gretchen did so by learning more about random things that interested her, and reading unfamiliar magazines, just for the heck of it.  I wonder what I’ll do to ‘go off the path?’  One thing that comes to mind is tackling some of those ‘nagging tasks’ from the first chapter.  I’m on my second list, and while I’ve done lots of things, there are some biggies I wish Andrew would just do, like replacing a broken tile on the stairs.  But, I get lots of happiness from doing hard things independently, and I have way more available time to accomplish these tasks.  I just need to (wo)man UP!   My father did always say I could do anything I put my mind to…

Lastly, Gretchen ‘started a collection’ of bluebirds.  (How appropriate–they are the symbol of happiness.)  I love collections, and have way too many pineapple ‘things’ to count.  (The blog started in 2011 as ‘thefrozenpineapple,’ and once people knew I liked pineapples, they’ve come to me in droves.  Now they’re everywhere and wildly popular, and I’m trying to put some distance between myself and the sweet, hospitality-symbolizing fruit.)

Things I/we collect must also be useful, either for doing something (like cooking) or for decoration around the house, as I dislike clutter and don’t like things that simply collect dust.  The vast majority of our house is decorated with trip-related things, such as framed photos, artwork, ceramic plates and a few trinkets.  We buy the museum collection guidebook at every art museum we visit.  One of my fall projects is to build built-in cabinets and shelving around our television for better storage and display of our treasures.  I also collect Le Creuset dutch ovens.  It started with a small set purchased before we got married, and has ballooned from there, either received as gifts or purchased when I could find a smokin’ deal.  I love them because they are beautiful and useful and plan to build them their own set of open shelves so I can see them every day.

While I’m not really a ‘collector,’ I do like acquiring things.  (It’s that love language of mine–gifts!)  So, while I don’t look for more pineapples and we don’t necessarily add any travel-related decor every year (and I’m certainly not out buying dutch ovens on the regular!), I DO love ‘growing’ a collection of anything.  I love the research I do beforehand (most recent items include: new bath towels, most natural face lotion with SPF that is also recommended by my dermatologist, best price for Chaco sandals), and obviously the joy of receiving a new thing.

If I’ve learned ANYTHING from this chapter, it’s that I need to MAKE TIME FOR THINGS I FIND FUN.  I already make time for working out (something I find fun), household upkeep (less fun and more a removal of stress) and landscaping in fits and spurts (something that both brings me fun while doing it AND immense joy upon completion), but don’t make time to write or read (although I’m able to blow through books on tape while driving, running and performing various household activities).

Gretchen remarks over and over again how much she enjoys her work (writing), and how she recognizes that is both a huge blessing and somewhat of a detriment to her happiness project.  Every time she talks about writing, I imagine myself ‘working’ in much the same way, with a big smile on my face.  Perhaps I simply need to move ‘writing’ from the bottom of the to-do list to the top?




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