What is fun? Well, here’s a question that should be pretty easy to answer. And it is…if you’re six or seven years old. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line our parents drum it into our little bubble gum brains that we shouldn’t be so childish. We should act…grown up. (Notice that word, act. It’s key to the concept and a big part of the problem.) Nowhere along the line do grown-ups stop to consider that, squishing the child out of the child might not be the best thing to do. “Wilbur and Orville, stop playing in the basement”.
What they don’t tell you, probably because they don’t even think about it, is that one of the key ingredients to having a happy life, is not stamping-out that little kid inside us. Believe it or not, that little kid is the very engine that can propel you into having a happy marriage, successful career, happy life. That little kid inside you just might be the very engine of greatness. Look at Richard Branson (little kid par excellence). Look at Steve Jobs, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell. In fact, look at every rock star, every actor, singer, dancer, writer, comedian. Then look at the research scientists computer geniuses, pilots, firemen, cops…it goes on and on and on.
When I was a little kid, my best friend/buddy liked to wear mirrored sunglasses. We’d ride our bikes and he’d pull me over like a motorcycle cop, and give me a ticket. It was cool, he could even make his voice sound like Broderick Crawford on Highway Patrol. It was fun! Guess what Bob grew up to be.
I liked to invent stuff. I made…a submarine (that did’t work very well.) Made some weird go-anywhere vehicles, three-stage rockets, a paddle boat, also a Rogallo Wing air boat, the first homemade laser in New Jersey…etc. etc. It was fun and I couldn’t wait to come home from school so I could invent even more stuff. I still love to do it and I’ve got some patents to show for it.
The Secret to Life: James Taylor said it well in one of his songs. “The secret to life is enjoying the passage of time.” Yup! It’s that simple. When I was growing up, my mother put it a bit more practically. She said, “Find something that you LOVE to do…and then figure out a way to get paid for doing it.” Honestly, that was a lot harder for me and took a lot longer than I expected. I did it the hard round-about way.
Doing it the hard way. In college, I was pre-law…pre-lawyer, which in retrospect is probably the last thing on this planet that I’d want to be. It was a placeholder. I knew I had to study something and I really loved the questions that were addressed in the philo seminars. Got accepted to Columbia Law, but then fate stepped in as it sometimes does, and with a lottery number of 17, I learned to fly jets in the Air Force. And…we’re being honest here, it was in between flying that I accidentally discovered what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life. Create stuff, sculptures, books and inventions. That’s how it goes sometimes…
Sometimes you don’t truly understand life’s rules until you look back at your life. And it’s a scary thing to do because for some, they look back and feel huge waves of regret. What I really wanted to do was (fill in the blank) but now it’s just TOO DAMNED LATE. The good news is: It isn’t too late, IF you have the guts to conjure up that little kid in you and begin a new life. Do your homework. The world is filled with people who lived one life, then at 50, 60, or even 70 set forth upon a huge new career. Grandma Moses was in her 70s when she began painting. Then there’s Abraham Lincoln, Colonel Sanders, J.K. Rowling…Why bother going back and learning to fly, or getting your degree, or learning the guitar, learning Italian, learning to Tango at such an age. The question that slam-dunks back at you is, Why the hell not???
Pitfall to Happiness: Getting Up on the Cross: The biggest one of all is what my mom used to call Getting Up on the Cross. Many adults I know spend a lifetime up there, being miserable, doing what they don’t want to do…while quietly suffering. In reality, for those around them, it’s not all that quiet and it’s a pain in the ass. You end up hurting not only yourself but driving away those who love you.
Here’s how it works: You feel slighted or unappreciated…put-upon. Sooo…what do you do? Immerse yourself in some miserable task to show the world just how miserable you really are. It’s childish…and in the really bad way. How does it play out? It does precisely the opposite of what it’s intended to. It makes you miserable and makes everyone else want to run and hide. Warning: Entire lifetimes can be spent up there on the cross and being miserable. When you’re up there, you’re up there by your lonesome.
Turning Lemons into Lemonade: This is the precise opposite of the above pitfall and it’s one of the huge secrets of life. Want to watch a prime example? Google-search Aimee Mullen in one of her TED lectures. Aimee is a smart, beautiful gal, who was born without legs as we know them. She has short stubs. That would be a deal breaker for many. But Aimee walks out on stage…looking gorgeous, does a little pirouette, and explains how she can change her height to match her evening wear. Or… Stephen Hawking. Or Peter Dinklage, Ray Charles, Beethoven, Bocelli, and thousands more. You think you have it bad? Millions have it worse, millions get handed one HUGE lemon and have to decide whether or not to set up a lemonade stand…or die. Get off the cross and live your life. When you’re happy, the people around you are a whole lot happier.
A tiny secret about this article...and everything I write. It doesn’t magically and effortlessly flow out. Right this second, it’s a jumble of disoriented paragraphs, with glowing red underlines where I’ve (at the moment) misspelled pirouette, Bocelli, and more. It was started at 4 am this morning and I’m now on my third cup of coffee. By the time it’s finished, if prior articles are any indication, it will have been messed-with at least 50 to 80 times before you read it. What do I get paid for this? Guess. I do it because it just might help somebody else…AND…it’s a blast doing it. If I were miserable doing it, you wouldn’t be reading it. Writers are little kids who like to tell stories. If you practice enough and tell interesting enough stories, people publish your work and you can actually get money! Quote from Steven King: “I have the brain of a child. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”
Another Pitfall: This happens a lot. The little kid that lives inside you wants to do something that’s fun. But…that big serious grown-up inside you has to rationalize it in some way. Has to make it serious, or profitable or any one of a hundred other parameters. The moment you begin down that road… the fun, the pleasure, the enjoyment begins to fade slightly. We adults can make virtually anything a chore… even sex. The goal, my dear, is for you to have an optimal orgasm in the shortest amount of time. To that end, I have taken notes and made some charts... Well…….that’s just not gonna work at all. A better way? Get in bed, and take yourself back a decade or two. This is your first bed- time date…first time you’ve seen her naughty parts and….ANYTHING GOES! Do you have to have an orgasm? Not really. You just have to be two little kids again, giggling and groping.
I vividly remember asking a member of my family what fun is. His answer to that question was, (I’m quoting now) “Are you referring to recreation?” The question stopped me in my tracks. I went home and repeated the quote to Pamela. She said, “….huh?”
A Little Anecdote: A few days ago, I called a gravel company to deliver 70 tons of 1/2″ gravel for our driveway. The guy showed up in a huge tri-axle truck, all ready to dump it. He had silver hair…and a twinkle, and we got to talking. He explained how because of the trees and the curves in the road that he couldn’t dump the gravel exactly where I wanted. I told him candidly that I must not have had enough Tonka toys when I was little cuz I love moving rocks and dirt and trees around with my tractor. He laughed and said, “Me, too. I love doin’ this…” We spent half the day, like two little kids, pushin’ stuff here and there, smoothing it out. It looked a whole lot like work and it could have been. But it wasn’t. Most of Life is like that. Nothing is inherently work or fun. That decision is made somewhere between your ears.
In the first shot up above, you see my wife, Pamela and my three dogs. Pamela taught me many, many, many things. And in a funny kind of way, my pups, Scootie, Gigi, and Moose did as well. They’ve taught me some huge lessons. Fun and happiness can be found anywhere. In a sea of sticks in our yard, if I pick up just one…the game is on. The fight begins. If I show them a bottle cap, the tails start wagging. Cool. What kind of game is this? I guarantee you if any one of them lost a leg, they wouldn’t miss a beat. Okay, here’s another challenge. How do you run around on three legs? Oh…here’s how you do it. We humans can learn a lot…