Schedule Time for Play

One of my favorite resolutions—but also kept with great difficulty—is to Schedule time for play. I often get teased about this resolution, because people think it sounds incongruous, and even silly, to schedule time for play. Play should be spontaneous, right? Aren’t we naturally alert for opportunities to have fun? Why put it on the schedule?

Well, that’s not how it works for me. Maybe it sounds odd to pencil “play” into my calendar like a dentist’s appointment, but what I’ve learned, from long experience, is that if I don’t schedule time for play, I don’t do it. Instead, I focus on working or crossing tasks off my to-do list, or I do the activity that’s most convenient, instead of what would be the most fun thing to do.

Writer Jean Stafford scoffed, “Happy people don’t need to have fun,” but in fact, studies show that the absence of feeling bad isn’t enough to make you happy; you must strive to find sources of feeling good. Research shows that regularly having fun is a key factor in having a happy life; people who have fun are twenty times more likely to feel happy.

One of my favorite forms of play is to read and to talk about books. Many of my resolutions are aimed at helping me to read more and read better (here are tips for reading more). As one way to schedule time for that play, I belong to three book groups. Having those regular meetings assures that I get that playtime in my calendar.

Another reason to schedule time for play is that once you’ve scheduled it, you can look forward to it. Anticipation is one of the four stages of enjoying a happy event (anticipation, reveling, expression, and reflection), and one way to get more happiness bang for the buck is eagerly to anticipate something fun. I get a little jolt of happiness whenever I see book-group meeting on my calendar.

However, just as one of my Secrets of Adulthood is “Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy,” having fun doesn’t always sound like fun, when I’m considering it. Sometimes I don’t look forward to things that will be fun.

For example, even though I almost never feel like going to the movies, and depend on my husband to push us to go, I end up having fun. If he didn’t put it on the schedule, I’d never do it, and I’d miss out.

Even though I don’t always feel like going to the trouble to put up holiday decorations, I end up having fun. This is a task that must be put on the schedule, or else the holiday can pass without decorations. A few years ago, I shudder to remember, we didn’t get a pumpkin for Halloween. We had other Halloween decorations, but we didn’t carve a jack-o-lantern. My daughters didn’t seem particularly upset, but that counts as Mommy malpractice in my book. Pumpkin-carving needed to go on the schedule!

If you don’t put play on the schedule, weeks, months, and even years can pass without doing something you’d love to do. Planning a fly-fishing weekend. Taking a short train trip to visit that new museum you’re dying to see. Using the intriguing kitchen gadget you picked up. By scheduling time for play, you make room in your life for fun.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Alex Alvarez.

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