Joy, Play And The Meaning of Life

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Image by Eiko Jones

“Don’t judge yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Be your own best friend. It’s all about having fun and relaxing into life. No matter what you’re going through, whatever your issues are, the idea really is about increasing your frequency, your energy. You do that by developing a sense of humor, by doing things that bring you joy.”

— Anita Moorjani

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The warrior’s approach is to say ‘yes’ to life: say ‘yes’ to it all.
Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows but we can choose to live in joy. When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree.
The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.

~ Joseph Campbell

We who have grown up in a Puritan infected society learned quite early to contain our pleasures. Joy and enjoyment weren’t the guiding principles of a life well lived. Serious work and success filled those roles. We had to prove ourselves to our society. We had to buckle down and live by the sweat of our furrowed brows. We learned to look askance at those frivolous folks devoted to the arts, even as we tried not to envy them.

Men, especially in the Puritan ethos, were pushed not always very gently toward work called serious, either requiring brawn or brains. Anything requiring sensitivity was “women’s” work.” I know. I grew up in that environment and had to find a way beyond it.

The inner conflict I saw in my own family dramatized itself down the generations. There were always the occasional rebels and outcasts who reacted by becoming stereotypical anti-puritans, but they were greatly outnumbered by those who swallowed the teachings of their particular sect without question.

A childhood of that kind of conditioning is hard to shed, especially if you don’t read or travel. I did both, from the earliest age I could manage it, and I’m glad I did because it’s too late at retirement age to question your mores. I began to take those shocks in my twenties, continuing right through my sixties into my seventies. I’m no longer just one thing. I’m a cross cultural person, and I made myself that way on purpose.

In spite of the fact that I can still sense those Puritan roots tremble sometimes, for the most part I became a hybrid of several cultures. I always admired non Puritan ways of living.

No culture is perfect. Every culture has its blind spots, but it’s easier to see other people’s blind spots than your own. Strangely enough, you begin to see yourself more clearly as you try to make a life in a foreign society. What they take for granted is very different from what you take for granted.

The main thing I saw in my own American upbringing had to do with doubts and suspicion around joy and pleasure. It was a surprise how other cultures viewed those things as unquestioned good. A culture that never jokes about pleasure as a guilty pleasure was a surprise to me. It showed how nervous my own culture was about such things. And then you notice all those holidays and days of celebration. You never hear of work being the meaning of life, as if the harder you work the more sure God was looking down and smiling on you.

No, some cultures see work as necessary to keep body and soul together but set aside plenty of time for friends, family, rest and celebration. The Protestant world has always criticized the Catholic countries for laziness, but in my observation those people work as hard or harder than anybody. They just know how to pace their lives in a work-rest rhythm.

Play is intimately linked to creativity. Following your own sensitivities and sense of enjoyment not only feeds a meaningful life, it creates beauty and inspiration for others.

I have a feeling that’s really what we’re here for.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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