The Guilt of Play
Sometimes we feel guilty that we play too much.
We think we are selfish if we play. We’re not being productive. Not efficient. Not contributing anything to society.
Other times we feel guilty that we aren’t playing enough.
Too much work leads to irritability and exhaustion and, eventually, ineffectiveness.
But there’s a third possibility for guilt concerning play. Sometimes we feel guilty if what we enjoy is different from what others enjoy.
Is This Fun?
On a sight-seeing drive through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Jeff and I climbed higher. We were leaving behind dry ground, and encountering more snow. And more snow. And even more.
Yes, it was beautiful. But as the roads became more narrow and more covered, I became more anxious.
Finally, I heard myself saying my thoughts out loud, “This isn’t fun anymore.”
Now if we had an object at the top of a mountain that we had to reach—a sick child or an important meeting—that would be one thing. Perhaps push on. Do the hard thing.
But if the only goal was pleasure, and it felt like torture, can we stop now?
Welcome Play, Your Way
In my year of Welcome, my July goal has been:
“Welcome Rest and Play” and “Let Go of Exhaustion and Productivity.”
I’m thinking I may need a repeat. I’m not sure I’ve done it.
Unless . . . I change my definition of rest and play.
How do you play? If you have a day to yourself, what do you do? Is it the same thing that your partner would do? Or your kids?
Gretchin Rubin uses these three tests for fun:
- I look forward to it.
- I find it energizing, not draining.
- I don’t feel guilty about it later.
What if, instead of measuring play by what others enjoy, we give ourselves permission to frame play as uniquely as we each are?
“Only recently had I grasped one of my most important Secrets of Adulthood: just because something was fun for someone else didn’t mean it was fun for me—and vice versa. There are many things that other people enjoy that I don’t.”
– Gretchin Rubin
God made us with individual pleasure points.
“When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity, the truest expression of our individuality.”
– Stuart Brown, M.D.
When we rest and play in our own ways, we come away more relaxed. More grateful. More worshipful.
And actually more productive, not less, when we do begin our work again.
“Play is a catalyst. The beneficial effects of getting just a little true play can spread through our lives, actually making us more productive and happier in everything we do.”
– Stuart Brown, M.D.
Back on the mountain, Jeff saw my tension. He knew my lack of fun on the mountain would soon outweigh his enjoyment of it.
He found a place to safely turn around and head back down the mountain instead of up. My mood lifted immediately.
Now I was ready to play again.
And eventually fly home on Southwest Airlines. Part of their mission statement is: “People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it.”
Enjoy this clip of how a Southwest Airlines employee makes flying fun.
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How do you play? In what ways is it different or similar to others? (Does it include Pokémon GO? That’s a “no” for me.) Please share in the comments.