Serious Fun: Exuberance and the Power of Pleasure
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Full-spectrum living is about living your life to the fullest measure of your potential. It sounds great but we all know it’s not that easy. Real life can sometimes get in the way and unexpected events can cause stress and have to be dealt with.
Yet some people seem to aim high, work hard, and enjoy the process more than others. They’re having fun. Look at Jeff Bezos, he’s always laughing. You might say, “Sure, he’s laughing. He’s a billionaire. I’d laugh too.” But I bet that sunny disposition helped make him a billionaire.
The truth is, most of us hold on to a particular disposition or temperament all our lives. Psychologists call this a happiness set point. Two years after winning the lottery many people return to their pre-lottery level of happiness. A grumbler might get infuriated at the sudden deluge of new relatives and friends. A pessimist might worry about going broke on taxes or that the new wing on the mansion is turning out all wrong.
When you’re having fun, though, energy flows. You’re enthusiastic, eager, empowered by your vision. You meet challenges with gusto. You see your disappointments as temporary setbacks. You mourn your losses and failures, feel bad for a while and then move on. You don't get stuck in the pain—whether it’s fear, anger, resentment, guilt or shame.
Much of it boils down to how you talk to yourself—your default inner dialog. Self-stimulating fear, resentment, guilt and shame scenarios—what I call telling yourself ghost stories—robs us of hope and courage. So, how do we overcome these internal habits? We need to notice when the self-talk is unkind--carping on what we've done wrong--and practice being compassionate, forgiving and encouraging with ourselves.
You can’t punish yourself to stop punishing yourself. So, as usual for me, I advocate for pleasure. Experiencing the fun and pleasures of everyday life, I think, is a good habit to cultivate. When you feel good, it's easier to be hopeful and adventuresome.
But, isn’t just having fun a superficial way of looking at things? Yes it is, if fun is all about distracting yourself from yourself—entertainment, playing games and partying. Mind you, I’m all for superficial fun. But there is a more profound way to understand fun.
Look at it this way. Having a spirit of fun is what psychologists, neurologists, early childhood educators, and social philosophers call exuberance. A joie de vie, or elan vital if you will.
Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison describes it this way:
“Exuberance is incomparably more important than we acknowledge. If enthusiasm…finds the opportunities, and energy makes the most of them, a mood of mind that yokes the two is formidable indeed. Exuberant people…hold their ideas with passion and delight, and they act upon them with dispatch. Their love of life and of adventure is palpable. Exuberance is a particularly pleasurable state, and in that pleasure is power."
Pleasure is power because pleasurable experience infuses us with energy. So aside from the fun of physical activity, dancing, singing, laughing with friends, and good sex, how can we connect up with our inner exuberant selves when we’re doing something that’s not such fun, or having a difficult day?
Maybe we can stop and ask ourselves, “Where are my little pleasures for this day? For me it’s in the morning stretch, a little walk, taking a break to sit and breathe and look at the sky, a five minute meditation, listening to a favorite piece music, a kiss from my sweetie, an unexpected phone chat with an old friend.
And I feel replenished.
I like this sentiment from Albert Einstein:
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
What are the everyday miracles of your life today?