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January 2, 2017

The Human Right to Have Fun

By Vega Subramaniam

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about leisure. We’re witnessing, not to mention experiencing, lots of of anger, rage, activist analysis…all those things that we both take for granted and applaud as righteous. But it’s also true that leftist culture has a conflicted relationship with “fun,” “play,” “leisure” — activities not purposely done to distract or wind down; nor experienced as a byproduct of something you’re doing for another purpose (like exercise or getting into the zone or using your special talents).

Swinging!People, especially if they are hyper-aware of their privilege, are gnawed by a sense that they are betraying the movement if they take down time just for its own sake. A friend wondered how she could possibly spend time pursuing hobbies for their own sake, outside of the context of “building community” or “because it offers growth opportunities.” Another friend knows she needs self-care because otherwise she won’t be any good for the movement. So she beats herself up for not going to the spa for a mani-pedi. Another friend says she doesn’t know how to relax, that every moment she is idle, she thinks about what she could be doing that would be useful.

And this gnaws at me.

Leisure is important enough that Article 24 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” Studies show that participation in leisure activities helps maintain our well-being and morale. Engaging in “serious leisure” is associated with positive psychological effects in areas such as flow, fulfillment, altruism, well-being, and interpersonal relationships.

You don’t need me to remind you that when our spirits are broken, the oppressors win. But you might need a reminder every now and then that playtime is a human right with positive effects on our well-being.

I get that taking down time feels self-indulgent. But isn’t that part of what we’re fighting for? If the ability to engage in the very human acts of playing and having fun are not part of our vision, why are we doing the work we do anyway? And if it’s part of the reason we work, then why would we deny it to ourselves? Is it finite? If you have fun, does that mean someone else cannot? Do you deny yourself food because others are hungry? Warm clothes because others are cold? If you sprained your ankle and you could go to the hospital, would you not go because others can’t afford medical care?

If you know all this but you can’t stop yourself from feeling bad for intentionally allowing yourself leisure time, then let’s figure out how to expunge the distraction that is your self-judgment. Let’s get you to a place where you are building in leisure time on a regular and ongoing basis. The best part of this plan is that it basically involves you doing fun things over and over. As I mentioned in a previous post, the key to establishing a new practice is to practice it.

I invite you to spend 15 minutes today doing something fun, just because. You’re welcome to add it to your to-do list, if that helps make it seem like a responsibility that you’re required to do. What if you don’t know what to do, or if you don’t have a hobby? Fear not! I have Googled that for you.

Doing this is your signal to yourself that, as Buddha may or may not have said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”

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