As children, we have no issue getting ourselves involved into activities for the sheer joy of doing them. Whether it is playing in the mud, tag with friends or family, drawing, putting on plays for parents, play is an essential part of our childhood.
As we grow older, we lose contact with this innocent and pure desire to have fun and play for the sake of joy. We are taught that life is serious and to be successful, whatever that means, we too must also be serious.
This seriousness that we begin to wear and incorporate into our daily lives, while certainly important at times, actually hinders us more than we might like to believe. While being serious, we focus on mitigating risks, trying to proactively respond or prepare for negative situations. We begin to analyze more coldly with our heads instead of our hearts. We pick the safe career path, living situation, and life partner. We forgo travelling now so we can save up to buy a house which is a milestone we absolutely must hit to be an adult. We then continue postponing that dream vacation because we just got married, or we have kids, or are paying our mortgage or college loans, or helping our kids pay for their college. Next thing you know, we are waiting for retirement to begin living even though by that point we might have medical bills or alimony payments to make (or still paying our mortgage and student debt).
This seriousness creeps into everything. We don’t want to paint anymore because we believe we will never be financially successful or famous off of our art. We stop singing, dancing, acting, writing, and creating for those same reasons. Everything becomes about the bottom line and how far any activity you do will take you, how much recognition you will receive.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, we do everything based on some variety of the following question: “would an adult actually do this?”. This is certainly helpful at times; we don’t want to be throwing tantrums or allowing our emotions to cloud or judgement or rule our lives as a child might. There is a certain maturity and wisdom that comes with growing older. With that being said, there are some inherent problems with asking ourselves this question.
First and foremost is our definition of what being an “adult” is. While there is sure to be a general consensus amongst us all, our individual experiences through childhood and interaction with adults will give us varying theories of what adulthood is supposed to look like.
Another issue with the above question is that it tends to rely heavily on how we think others will perceive us in the context of “adulting”. Will my boss, friends, significant other, parents, etc think I am being a responsible adult? We oftentimes do not realize how much we allow our perception of other people’s perception of us to influence our decision making.
From my own personal experience, I remember as a kid in middle and high school having this idea of what being a 26 year old would look and feel like. I’m writing at that age now and my reality does not match up very much with what I thought as an early teen. My conversations with friends, my age and older, has revealed that this is a very common phenomenon.
If I had to summarize it, I would say that there is a core part of us that really does not change much. Call it the spirit, higher self, or whatever, but that inner voice that perceives and narrates and experiences your life does not alter that drastically. Sure, we become wiser, more intelligent, more mature. But there is definitely a part of me that feels unchanged over the last decade plus.
I say all of this to illustrate, in my own tangential way, that society’s notion of adulthood, and the inherent seriousness, does not align very well with how most people actually feel and what we really desire. I believe this discrepancy in how we actually feel versus what we are told to feel is a leading cause of the despondency so prevalent today.
The best prescription I have found for this is to do what we can to get back to joy.
What does this mean???
Well, getting back to joy will be different to each and every single one of us. The idea, however, is that we let go of this notion of what adulthood should look like. Not the part of earning an income to pay for bills and taxes, or shirking responsibilities. That is all very important. Instead, it means to stop being so serious about life.
So what if that painting will never be showcased in a museum? First of all, you do not know that with 100% certainty, but also why only paint if you will get financially rewarded for it?
Don’t feel guilty about reading that Youth Fiction or Fantasy novel. You don’t have to read the memoirs of some politician or CEO in order for reading to be worthy of your time.
Wear those colorful socks. They are socks. If someone has an issue with you wearing fun socks, then the problem is with them and their bleak and boring outlook on life.
Sing your heart out in the car, shower, karaoke, or anywhere else as long as you aren’t disrupting people. Who cares if you don’t sound like Lady Gaga? If you feel lifted and alive when belting out a tune, just do it.
Feel free to take lessons for anything and everything. Singing, writing, playing an instrument, building bird houses, or any other activity that you are curious about or want to improve in.
I could go on with a much longer list, but I think you get the point. You do not need to only involve yourself in activities because the completion of them will generate some sort of reward. Nearly all of the fun is in the doing of them anyways, so just do them.
Once in a while, I like to eat Frosted Flakes, watch old animated Disney movies, play Age of Empires, sing and dance as if I’m performing in a musical, spontaneously cartwheel on the beach, or talk to myself in different accents just to amuse myself (I swear I am not crazy, I promise). In those moments, I truly feel lighter and like my soul and heart are shining brighter. Doing things like this improve my mood and outlook on life, even if only sometimes for a day or a few hours.
So please, do yourself an amazing favor and let go of being so serious all the time. Stop worrying about what everyone thinks or might think, even if only for just a moment. There are countless ways you can have fun, amuse yourself, feel lighter, and shine brighter. Allow yourself to get back to the pure joy of living for yourself.