Tag Archives: Fun

Don’t Overthink It: To Live Better and Feel Happy, Have More Fun

happy face

“Fun is good,” Dr. Seuss is quoted as saying on the internet, so I can’t be entirely sure it’s true.
But even if it’s not, I could just quote myself saying it right now: “Fun is good.” – Matt
Because honestly, we need to be having more of it. Yes, even you. (Image/download-wallpaper.net)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be having fun and feeling good, but you’re not and you don’t?

Not only is what you’re doing NOT fun, but there’s the bonus element of suckage resulting from your unmet expectations and ensuing disappointment.

There are countless reasons why something we expected to be good turned out to be bad. Maybe we’re having a fight with our spouse or partner and now the party we attended with them isn’t fun. Maybe we have a chronic injury and the pain we feel on long runs or bike rides sucks the joy out of a previously positive experience. Maybe we’re doing something alone, but we discover that we only feel good or happy when we’re doing it with other people. (Giggity.)

How much I like or don’t like something tends to be influenced heavily by my expectations leading into it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to not hype things up in my head so much, and have discovered many more pleasant surprises along the way as a result. I like pleasant surprises.

But something else has also happened as I’ve gotten older—I’ve had less fun.

I don’t think people want to admit that.

I think we feel guilty and ashamed when we take an honest, no-bullshit assessment of our lives and conclude: I don’t enjoy life as much as I used to.

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we’re married or in committed relationships and we don’t understand why the most important relationship in our adult lives doesn’t deliver more personal happiness. Maybe we’re afraid to admit to ourselves or anyone else how much of our lives we sacrificed to promise forever to someone else, only to feel much more disappointed than we ever acknowledge.

Shouldn’t my relationship deliver more joy and satisfaction than it does?

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we have kids and we love them so intensely. Shouldn’t I feel happier and have more fun as a parent than I do?

Maybe we’re embarrassed that no matter how much wealth, real estate, or career advancements we earn, we still sometimes feel a yearning when we’re laying still in the dark with nothing to drown out our most honest inner thoughts.

I’ve achieved and acquired so many things I believed would make me happy, but the truth is, back when I was just a poor kid playing backyard football in a small town no one’s ever heard of, I felt HAPPIER and had MORE FUN than I do now.

And once again, our unmet expectations take a poke at our insides, making the corners of our mouths just a little bit heavier. It’s harder to find our smiles when we find ourselves once again asking: WTF happened to my life? Why do I feel so unfulfilled?

Maybe it’s Just Me

I don’t mean to sound as if I assume your life sucks and that you feel depressed all the time.

I don’t feel depressed all the time.

My life doesn’t suck.

BUT. There’s no question that I don’t have as much fun as I used to.

And that dear friends—I believe—is the answer to the riddle.

Everyone’s Fun Looks Different, So Trust Yourself, Not What Others Say

I can sit for five or six hours in a poker tournament folding 90 percent of my hands and have fun.

My ex-wife thought that sounded dreadful. Even some of my fellow poker enthusiasts can’t stand the idea of folding so many hands. (Bonus Life Tip: That’s how you win poker tournaments—folding the vast majority of the time.)

Some people love crocheting. Or bowling. Or gardening. Or painting tin soldiers. Or reading biographies. Or watercolor painting.

No one can tell you what feels fun. It’s our job to try things and then evaluate as fairly and honestly as possible how pleasurable of an experience each thing was.

In a life where more and more demands are being placed on us from family and career responsibilities, and an increasingly more-connected world also means more distractions, the FIRST things most of us sacrifice to make room for these demands are the things that bring us pleasure.

We are continually being forced to cut out more and more of the things we do simply because we like them. And normally, productivity and accomplishment provides a sense of satisfaction. But almost inevitably, mandatory tasks always start to feel burdensome.

Nothing but divorce has ever depressed me more than the day I realized that I wake up every weekday, drive to work, and do something I wouldn’t necessarily be doing if I didn’t need the income, before going home only to wake up and do the same thing again the following day.

It’s still true right now.

I exchange the vast majority of my (non-sleeping) life for a paycheck.

Why?

(This is the depressing part.)

So I can have enough money to stay alive (food, water, clothing, health care), have shelter (mortgage), and afford transportation (car payment).

In a life with a finite amount of time, I question the wisdom in exchanging the majority of my life experiences simply to have a house to sleep in, stuff to store there, and a vehicle to drive me back and forth to the job.

To deal with this, I pursue several other things (including the writing I do here, and the speaking I hope to do in the future) in my limited spare time to have hope that I can wake up every day feeling more fulfilled and as if how I’m spending my time has more purpose and value.

But that’s a personal problem.

What all of us are ultimately pursuing is CONTENTMENT. And some people, who are either super-fortunate to have been born that way, or are models of practicing intentional gratitude, DO actually feel content to live in their homes and their towns and go to work every day.

They are rich in home life. In friends and family (or super-content to be mostly alone and reclusive—and for those wired for that—that’s great too). They are thankful for what they have and aren’t slaves to The Disease of More.

But we don’t have time for platitudes.

We’re not going to tell depressed people to “chin up.”

We’re not going to tell happy people how lucky they are that they don’t suffer as others do.

We’re not going to tell people that they’re wrong because of their likes and dislikes.

In the interest of self-care and supporting those we care about most, it’s critical that we make time to engage in activities that give us life and energy.

It makes us better romantic partners.

It makes us better parents.

It makes us better friends.

It makes us better members of the workforce.

It makes us better human beings.

The Importance of Discovering Our Happy Places

Kids instinctively do their favorite things in whatever moments and environments they’re in, given whatever resources are available.

Children don’t know all of their favorite things because they spend a lifetime discovering them. Some are given a narrow view of the world and limited opportunities because of whatever circumstances they’re born into, and others are introduced to unlimited possibility and have rich life experiences that are the result of substantial financial resources, or resourceful and supportive parents and adult role models.

Some kids are told that they can’t do certain things. Over and over again. Because their parents or siblings or friends or teachers roll their eyes at these childhood dreams and say very adult things like “Well, young lady. That sounds great, but how are you going to make money doing that?”, or “Well, young man. I’m sure you’d make a fine [insert dream-big idea here] but you don’t have the skills, knowledge, money, talent, geography, etc. Maybe you should think of something more realistic like being an assistant restaurant manager, or a third-shift foreman at the local factory.”

Even if you were supported as children, you can still hear and feel all of the naysayers every time you’re vulnerable enough to share an idea that makes you feel alive on the inside.

And then those closest to us tell us we’re silly and impractical, or otherwise leave the impression that we’re not good enough.

Husbands and wives have divorced, and children have gone years without speaking to their parents, for less.

The most fortunate of us can make a sustainable living doing things we love. (I am paid decently, mostly to write things. It’s a miracle, and I STILL complain because I don’t like bosses and rules, and occasionally demonstrate a gratitude problem.)

But often we invest time in activities that don’t pay us back with money. Social clubs. Hobbies. Parties. Travel. Volunteerism. Sports. Art. Whatever.

We do these things because we feel pleasure when we do them.

Sometimes it’s one thing. Sometimes it’s many things. Maybe some people can’t think of ANYTHING (outside of sex, drugs and alcohol) that they do simply for the enjoyment and fulfillment of doing it.

But you must.

And you must encourage your partners and children to do the same.

We place so much value on the acquisition of money and material goods, to the point where adults believe they’re happy when they’ve gotten enough money to buy the thing they’ve spent years believing “When I FINALLY have that magical thing, I’m going to feel successful and happy. THEN, I’ll know I’ve made it,” only to inevitably discover that the feeling is fleeting and then The Disease of More rears its ugly head once again.

I think goals are amazing.

I think wanting things and experiences and money is more than okay. I want them too.

But along the way, we forget to pursue happiness and joy ON the journey.

We forget to have fun. The kind of fun that’s OURS. Maybe other people like it. Maybe they don’t. But we must do things that light that fire of happiness within us.

It’s a feeling.

And the real magic of knowing that feeling is that once we identify it (which is easy as an unfulfilled adult because it feels so radically different from the rest of existence), we can begin to recognize it in other parts of our lives.

With our spouses or romantic partners.

With our children.

With our co-workers.

We begin to recognize the set of conditions that produces that feeling of fun and energy and enthusiasm. The one that makes us feel like the best version of ourselves.

It’s pretty cliché and platitudey for me to offer some bullshit like: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or “Before you can love someone else, you must first love yourself.”

So I’ll leave that to the Instagram quote writers.

But in a life where our relationships with our romantic partners are THE #1 FACTOR in the quality of our life and health, and half of all marriages fail, I don’t think we can afford to ignore the importance of injecting fun into our lives.

It’s NOT selfish to pursue fun if that fun gives you the energy you need to be the best romantic partner and parent possible.

It’s UNSELFISH and important to encourage your partner to take some time to do things they need to do to find their happy place (which may or may not involve dwarf cowboys). If we need to step up and take something off of their plate so that they have the time to pursue THEIR passion, I think we’ll discover incalculable dividends.

We’re broken.

Messy.

Imbalanced and unsteady.

Amidst the chaos Life throws our way, one of the ways we can achieve balance and sure footing is to call timeouts for fun.

No agenda.

Just to be in the moment, or be with the people with whom fun spontaneously happens.

We forget to play.

We confuse acquisition, advancement and long-term goals as the happiness-delivering payoff to justify all the miserable drudgery we subject ourselves to while our most important relationships fail, and we feel ourselves slip further and further away from the US we remember from long ago.

When things just felt better.

When we were happy.

When life was fun.

It can’t and won’t look the same as it did back then. But if we invest less in feeling like failures for our lives looking and feeling differently than our little-kid dreams imagined, and more in simply pouring our minds and hearts into the things that fill our souls?

Maybe our children accidentally learn how to live better by watching us live better, and maybe our marriages and personal relationships thrive.

Because we’re no longer living for tomorrow.

But once again, just like when we were kids, we’re alive today.

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No Place Like Home

social connection

When you live somewhere far away from your hometown or a place with many friends and family, and then get divorced, you spend a lot of time alone.

There are differences between being alone and being lonely. More than two years removed from marriage, I am alone more often than I was right away, but feel less lonely.

But as someone who thrives on social connectivity and human interaction, there can be no doubt that I find myself in the loneliest period of my life.

I’m going to be fine because this won’t be permanent, and because I actively pursue social activity today more so than I did during the hardest, darkest days following the divorce.

But like so many of these experiences new to me in this unexpected life phase, it dawns on me that I can’t be the only one experiencing this.

The Recipe for Social Isolation After Divorce

I’m sure it can happen multiple ways, but here’s how it happened for me.

I was born in Iowa and lived there until I was 4. Then, my parents divorced and my mother moved us to Ohio where we lived near her hometown.

I grew up in a small-town, big-family environment and had a large group of friends throughout elementary school and high school, so even though I was an only child, I never experienced loneliness.

My college years proved to be the most-connected, and I believe not coincidentally, the most-fun years of my life.

Because I was young and took for granted the connection between friends and family, and my internal happiness and well being, I moved to Florida more than a thousand miles away after graduating college.

My girlfriend, who would later be my wife/ex-wife, was with me, mitigating some of the loneliness and social isolation we both felt after a few months living so far from home for the first time.

After a few years, we moved back to Ohio, only this time, we moved near my wife’s hometown—a place where I had no roots, hundreds of miles from all the people I knew and grew up with. Still, it felt much more like home than Florida. My wife’s immediate and large extended family welcomed me, and holidays were warm, vibrant affairs, and that helped offset any loneliness or social isolation I felt being in yet another new place far from home.

We made friends. Almost all were married couples because when you’re married, you tend to befriend and hang out with other couples.

It wasn’t perfect. My dad’s side of the family was 500 miles away. My mom’s side was a four-hour drive away. But we had made a home and forged a comfortable life with our new friends and my wife’s kind family.

Even though it was a slow death at home, so sneaky I didn’t even recognize it happening until she finally said one night: “I don’t know if I love you anymore,” it must have seemed quite sudden to friends and family because my wife and I were so good at wearing masks and pretending.

She’d had enough. And she left.

And at first, I was so out of breath, and so emotionally and mentally and spiritually damaged, focused on the loss of my presumed lifelong partner, half of my little son’s childhood, and all of my hopes and dreams for the future, that loneliness and social isolation weren’t on my radar.

In fact, there were many days and nights where I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

But time heals even the deepest wounds. And something like normalcy returns.

You lose friends from the fallout.

You lose an entire family because when you divorce your spouse, you often divorce their family too, no matter how kind and loving they remain in your sporadic post-divorce meetings.

So you take stock of your life.

I have no family.

I lost friends.

My son needs both of his parents, so unless we all agree to move somewhere, this is where we are for many more years.

You accept your fate. It’s not ideal. You’d move if you could. But your son matters so much more than anything else, that there’s no internal debate.

When you are a divorced parent to children fortunate enough to have a viable parent nearby to help love and care for them, you tend to be geographically stuck. And if you’re someone like me who happened to move with your partner to a place far from home, you find yourself here. Just like me.

Longing for more.

Yearning for the joy and comfort of lifelong friendships.

But resigned to your fate.

This is where I live. And I have to make the best of it.

The Journey Home

I’m visiting family and friends this week in western Illinois.

No matter how many years of vibrant social living you’ve experienced, when you live alone as I do now and rarely see people from your past, it’s easy to forget how soul-enriching it is to be with loved ones.

It has been a wonderful visit. Incalculable fun and laughter with people who have mattered for as long as I can remember.

But this is the last day. The one that always arrives too quickly.

Tomorrow, we—my young son and I—return home.

Not home, per se. But, home.

It reminds me that home isn’t just a destination, but a state of mind, a state of being.

That it’s about people and how we feel when we are with those people. Those beautiful few we let all the way in. The people who cross from friend to family, despite the absence of shared bloodlines.

I came across this today in Medical Daily:

“While solitude can stimulate creativity and even improve our attention span, it can also have deadly consequences. A 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science found social isolation increased people’s likelihood of death by 26 percent, even when people didn’t consider themselves lonely. Social isolation and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely.

The human species is inevitably a social species that has depended on other members since birth. We’re social creatures that need other people in order to be well and thrive. Naturally, surrounding ourselves with others and fostering close relationships are the antidote to living happy, healthy, and well.”

I can’t go back in time and change the course of my life or marriage.

I can’t run away to places in this world where I have family and friends networks that mean so much to me.

And I can’t rely on others to do anything for me.

It has to be me. It has to be us—everyone who finds themselves in these relatively unique life circumstances.

We have a responsibility to create the best-possible life for our children. We have a responsibility to be the happiest, healthiest versions of ourselves so that we can be the parents our kids need.

To totally sell out and rock a pretty annoying cliché, we all have a responsibility to make lemonade. You know, because of the lemons.

Our families can’t do it for us.

Our faraway friends can’t do it for us.

It has to start with the choice to be friendly and generous to others. To courageously try new things and participate in new activities. To put ourselves out there for acceptance or rejection and being willing to roll with the punches knowing we’re going to earn a few new “family” members along the way.

Because when you can’t be home, you have to make home.

To inject more life into life.

And it boils down to one simple choice: What am I going to do today?

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Faith Like a Child

Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

Because I was an only child, I often found myself meeting and playing with new kids.

No one cared about how much money your parents made. Or what clothes you were wearing. Or the color of your skin. Or where, or if, you went to church.

You only knew you were both kids and playing is fun. So you both played.

So long as no one was mean, everyone had a good time. You just played and played and played until someone’s parents made them leave.

We all wanted to be older. To not have anyone telling us no. To have our own money to buy things. To stay up as late as we wanted. To watch big-people shows. To sit at the adult table for holiday dinners.

No one at the kids’ table understood that life was never better than it was right then.

We all grow up and wonder why we never appreciated how good we had it.

Why Are Kids So Happy?

Someone smarter than me can probably put this in more academic terms.

But it’s because the kids don’t know about all the shit, right?

Because they are less likely to have lost someone in a tragic accident. They are less likely to know heartache and betrayal. To know poor health. To care about the social implications of poverty or their skin color or sexual orientation.

They’re happy because their shit pile is so light AND their bodies are so full of energy. Almost every kid will just run and run and run and run and laugh the entire time with their friends (maybe someone they just met!) for hours and hours.

Because Play! Fun! Laugh!

Before some grouchy, sad adult drops the hammer and makes them quiet down or stop running or go home and take a bath before bed because we have very important adult things to do tomorrow!

When Do We Lose Hope?

What’s the thing that has to happen for people to do that?

What’s the series of events that turns the child who believes she’s going to fly to Mars, or be elected President, or be a professional athlete turn into a resigned 9-to-5er who believes: “This is just the way it is!”?

More importantly, is there any way to clean that whiteboard and start again? Is there any way to filter out the impurities? Is there any way to recapture the youthful spirit and energy that won’t be held down by gravity?

We get older and we get scared. We’re afraid to move because we got divorced or because we lost a job or because things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. Because we think we’ve disappointed our parents or our friends. Because we reject grace and forgiveness because we kind of want to carry the pile of shit and guilt and fuckness as some sort of self-imposed punishment.

I deserve this.

People think and feel that. It’s almost like they want to serve the penance. They need to serve the penance.

Atonement.

People feel trapped in their lives and they think they’re ruining it for their children or their family and friends and I’ve already done enough damage! and now it’s just a bunch of self-loathing, disappointment and fear. They’re afraid to cause any more harm.

They’re afraid to take the leap.

They’re paralyzed.

The Thing About Data Samples

We’re not going to debate climate change. Like almost every subject my brain has ever encountered, I.don’t.know and I’m never going to pretend I do. You don’t either. We just have a lot of guesswork. Some of them are probably right.

Anyone interested in intentionally damaging the planet is an asshole. But let’s not pretend we have a particularly good data sample size to make our impassioned political judgments and arguments in either direction.

The planet is 4.5 billion years old.

Humans started recording temperatures in 1850. We didn’t get tropospheric readings (from weather balloons and satellites) until 1950.

Now I want you to think of the entire history of the earth as ONE YEAR. Pretend the Earth was created on Jan. 1, and today in 2015, we’ve now completed one year of the planet’s existence.

The data we have on climate so far is the equivalent of about the first full second between midnight and 12:01 a.m. on that first day. (A good mathematician can come up with a more-accurate analogy, but the point will stand.)

You want to bet everything on your what-will-happen-next prediction based on a second of data?

Even if you’re someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, you still believe that energy never goes away (or should because it’s indisputable).

What happens to our consciousness remains up for debate by skeptics and the faithful.

But our energy is immortal and never-ending, no matter what.

And if there’s an afterlife? All this shit and guilt and fuckness we feel here isn’t going to mean a damn thing in a little bit.

How much of our lives have we really lived to know what’s going to happen next year? Next month? Next week?

Or one minute from now?

I hear all these stories from people. Beaten up by life. And now, they’re out of options! There’s absolutely nothing that can be done to change things. This is just the way it is.

This is not just the way it is.

We age and often feel shittier but some things ARE better now. All you need is one young child or the opportunity to spend time with one to feel better about your decision-making capabilities as an adult with a functioning brain.

Two days ago, I watched my son roll around on a dirty floor at his school with a bunch of his little friends and drop two donut holes from a paper plate onto the floor. About 10 seconds later after rolling around in Kids AIDS, he picked them up and ate them. Then he walked over to a table where drinks were set out and tried to mix white grape juice with orange juice. I’m convinced my interference is the only thing that prevented total disaster, and a shitty breakfast drink from being invented.

We have good brains and we should use them.

We’ll look to the kids, not for lessons on beverage mixing, but on how to get along with people and laugh more often.

Why can’t we be more like kids?

What’s stopping us from laughing and playing more? From not evaluating peers based on how much money they have or what their skin color looks like or who they choose to hang out with?

What’s stopping us from reaching for the stars with faith like a child?

We are not who we were yesterday.

Bad things happened to us. We did bad things. And we carry all that with us like luggage strapped to our backs and now we can’t be kids anymore because of the guilt luggage.

But we can get new luggage. Empty things waiting to be filled.

Yesterday does not get to decide who I am today.

Yesterday damn sure gets no say in who I am tomorrow.

You get to wake up every day and decide how you’re going to spend your time.

About whether you’re going to do something fun or productive or helpful or good or uplifting.

About at what table you’re going to sit at holiday gatherings.

About whether you’re going to do something with your life that sets your heart on fire and changes everything.

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You’re Not Supposed to Laugh at That

This is pretty much exactly what I'm talking about.

This is pretty much exactly what I’m talking about.

I was the only adult in the introductory Cub Scouts meeting without a child present.

“Which one is your son?”

“I’m sorry, he’s not here. He’s at karate with his mom tonight,” I said.

“Oh, I see.” But I could tell he really meant: “Yeah, right! You just want to Jerry Sandusky our kids! Pervert!”

Whatever, virgin.

I wasn’t there to be sold on Cub Scouts. We’d already decided to sign our six-year-old up. I was just there for the paperwork.

But the Cub Scouts leaders were laying it on thick, sharing anecdotes about how great the experience is instead of letting what is a totally worthwhile children’s activity sell itself. In fact, Public Service Announcement, Boy Scouts of America People: If you really want to grow your brand, stop having guys who have never had sex before and have the personality of C-SPAN be your public speakers.

Chlorophyll? More like BOREophyll. Right?

I came to the meeting intent on signing up, and an Eagle Scout damn near convinced me I’d made a mistake. He was like the Bizarro Billy Mays, talking me out of doing something I already wanted to do, one shitty selling point at a time.

Then one of the mom leaders started talking. She has three boys and they’re all in Boy Scouts, and it’s A-MAY-ZING!!!

She shared personal anecdotes. Camping stories. And then something bad happened.

All I heard was: “Blah blah blah blah blah, and then the boys pitch their own tents. Blah blah blah blah, pitching tents, blah blah blah. And blah blah blah Boy Scouts stuff blah, it’s so great seeing the boys pitching a tent.”

And then I made eye contact with the only male Cub Scouts leader in the room who might have had sex before, and I lost it.

I snorted a little.

A few tears streamed down my face.

And I had to just stare at the ground for a few minutes to keep my shit together.

I’ve always known it. But this felt like a defining moment for me. The guy without the kid at the Cub Scouts meeting laughing by himself because an awkward Scout Mom kept using the phrase: “Pitching a tent.” (Which for the uninitiated, is a popular phrase to describe a clothed male erection.)

I’m a 35-year-old child.

And maybe I always will be.

Tell Me, Big Puberty Guy

I was in fifth grade when I met my friend who would eventually be my college roommate for four years and the best man in my wedding.

But before we were rocking college keg parties and standing up for one another at our respective weddings, we were grade-school kids doing whatever grade-school kids did in 1989.

Two of those things were: sex education and puberty.

And despite neither of us being particularly advanced on the maturity side, we took to calling boys slow to develop physically “Big Puberty Guys.”

So, like, a kid with a lot of peach fuzz and super-young-looking features? Big Puberty Guy.

I was sort of a Big Puberty Guy. And still pretty much am because I lack the physical ability to grow a beard. I seriously only shave every two or three days. On day two, I look like 5 O’Clock Shadow Guy, and on day three, I look like Dirty-Hippie Neck Hair Trying But Failing To Grow A Beard Guy. It’s the opposite of hot.

In 1988 a little-known new wave synthpop band (that sounded British but wasn’t) named Information Society had a hit called “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy).”

The hook went like this:

I want to know

What you’re thinking

There are some things you can’t hide

I want to know

What you’re feeling

Tell me what’s on your mind

And for reasons I can’t explain, my friend and I changed the second stanza for the Big Puberty Guy theme song:

I want to know

What you’re thinking

There are some things you can’t hide

I want to know

How you’re maturing

Tell me, Big Puberty Guy

To the surprise of music aficionados worldwide, we DID NOT win a Grammy for songwriting that year.

The Mike Holmgren Beej

Two things you need to know:

  1. Mike Holmgren is a 60-something-year-old former NFL coach and executive famous for winning the Super Bowl in Green Bay during the Brett Favre era. I’m a Cleveland Browns fan, and for a short while, he was running my favorite football team. He has a pretty solid mustache.
  2. Beej = blow job.

One of my very best friends—someone I’ve known since first grade and think of as family—is a successful attorney and my son’s godfather.

We’re both football fans, though we root for different teams. And we often talk football whenever we catch up on the phone or visit one another. We sometimes discuss potential or hypothetical trades to gauge the other’s interest in acquiring players or draft picks, or to evaluate whether we think a particular trade is equitable.

Sometimes, when you’re on the fence about whether to make an NFL trade, one team (or in this case, just our hypothetical imaginations) will require a pot sweetener to seal the deal. Traditionally, an extra player or draft pick.

So, my friend (my son’s godfather—the man we selected from the entire pool of humanity—who I love very much in totally non-homosexual ways—as a spiritual guide for our child) invented the Mike Holmgren Beej® to be the ultimate pot sweetener.

Him: “Okay. So, would you be willing to trade the 4th pick in the draft, the 22nd pick in the draft, and a first rounder next year to the St. Louis Rams so you can trade up to draft Robert Griffin III?”

Me: “Three first rounders is pretty steep, man. I don’t know.”

Him: “Okay. What if I toss in a Mike Holmgren Beej®?”

Me: “Hmmm. With or without the mustache?”

Him: “With. Obviously.”

Me: “Sold.”

The Heaven Bones

Just to prove that we DO actually have a spiritual foundation and value our Catholic roots, we (mostly him) also created The Heaven Bones™.

What’s a Heaven Bone, you ask? Good question.

First, you either believe in an afterlife, are open to the possibility, or don’t believe in one at all. Given what I think I understand about energy, combined with my Catholic upbringing, the concept of “Heaven” is one that’s been with me from a very young age.

The premise of Heaven, if you don’t know, is that it’s eternal paradise. A place with only love and good things. No sadness. No anger. No hatred. No evil. And it lasts FOREVER. The concept of eternity (even GOOD eternity) has always scared the piss out of me.

“Who gives a shit, Matt!?!? WTF is a Heaven Bone???”

Right.

So, Heaven Bones.

Essentially, it’s having sex with people you always wanted to have sex with on Earth but didn’t or couldn’t.

So, that girl or guy you dated in high school that you fantasized about, but just weren’t ready at the time?

That friend or co-worker or old flame or friend’s sibling that was always off-limits?

In heaven, you can Heaven Bone™ them! (Theoretically.)

“But, Matt!!! What if you want to Heaven Bone someone, but they don’t want to Heaven Bone you back???”

Another great question! Glad you asked.

We also invented for your heaven-boning pleasure, the Heaven Bone Clones©.

An EXACT heaven-produced Xeroxed replica of the person you want to heaven bone.

You never thought about this before, right? And now you’re nodding, freaking pumped because you totally want to bang <insert person or clone here> for eternity. With NO consequences. Everyone will be cool with it! Because it’s heaven.

It’s going to be rad. Heaven Bones.

And if you didn’t already want to go to heaven, now you’re at least thinking about wanting to be there and will now be a better person moving forward. You’re welcome.

Why Do I Want to Laugh When I’m Not Supposed To?

I don’t know.

I just know that I do.

When I was a kid, I always looked around at all the adults and looked forward to being one, because then I’d finally have it all figured out and I wouldn’t have to worry or be afraid of anything anymore because I’d be mature and smart and wise and brave and ready for anything.

But then I just kept growing up. Aging. Staying alive.

And the longer I stay alive, the less I’m sure of.

The longer I’m around, the more I realize that we’re all, in many ways, that same person we were snickering in the back of our fifth-grade classrooms.

In a lot of ways, I have grown up. In a lot of ways, I am ready to take on the world around me when life calls for it.

But in ways I never expected, I’m still, just, me.

Just a kid causing a little bit of mischief in the back of the room and snorting at dick-and-fart jokes and throwing out a “That’s what she said” whenever it’s appropriate (which is often).

I’m sure some people frown at what they perceive to be childishishness on my part. In a corporate office meeting, I’m the odds-on favorite to crack up during someone’s presentation because of eye contact with one of my fellow childlike counterparts.

I’ll say it again: I’m a 35-year-old child. And maybe I always will be.

“What would it take to get you to grow up, Matt?”

I don’t know. Something major.

“A Mike Holmgren Beej?”

Hmmm. With or without the mustache?

“With. Obviously.”

Sold.

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What’s Possible Today?

Possibilities word cloud

Marital status aside—my life looks a lot like I thought it would when I was growing up.

I live in the Ohio suburbs. I’m middle class. My child goes to Catholic school now, just like I did.

When I was a kid, I didn’t really know what marriage would look and feel like, so I didn’t spend a great deal of time imagining it.

When I was a kid, I didn’t really understand what separates the financial winners from the losers. And I still don’t. I often feel like a complete failure. But compared to many people (the statistical majority, actually), I’m really doing quite well.

I hold myself to pretty high standards. And maybe that’s not psychologically healthy. But I don’t know how to quit. And I’m not sure I’d want to if I did.

Ask me why I’m 35 and have never been promoted at any of my three jobs since graduating college, and I’ll feed you an excuse: “Well! When you’re a newspaper reporter or copywriter in a corporate environment, there really isn’t much upward mobility!!!”

But the truth is that I’ve never made myself stand out as a leader of others.

Ask me why I lost my last job, and I’ll tell everyone how unlucky I was: “Oh yeah! Back in college, how could we have known what would happen to the newspaper industry!?!? I survived two rounds of corporate layoffs before the economic crunch caught up to me on a third round of cuts, and I was the least-senior person on staff!!!”

As if telling the story that way (which is all true, but all bullshit) makes you think any more of me.

The truth is that I didn’t prove myself to be indispensible to the publication. They knew they could lose me and there would be no financial consequences. There wasn’t enough demand for my writing and I never gave anyone a reason to care.

It’s not the economy’s fault my career is what it is.

It’s my fault.

It’s not the universe spoon-feeding me bad luck that has made me a single 35-year-old who works in a cubicle, leaving this dissatisfied taste in my mouth.

It’s my fault.

A little bit of ignorance.

A little lack of discipline.

A little lack of life experience.

But those three things all can be remedied.

So, what’s possible? What’s possible today?

Maybe Anything

More than once in history, the American people picked up their newspapers or turned on their televisions to learn the U.S. president had been shot and killed.

That lady over there just won a new car on a scratch-off lottery ticket.

A ping-pong ball bounced the right way last June, triggering a series of events that have turned the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers (my favorite team) into championship favorites after four straight years of horribleness.

Things just happen.

One day I was getting ready to fly to San Diego for a wedding and my wife told me she was pregnant.

Another time, when I was little, my mom put me in a car and drove me 500 miles away from my dad and we never came back.

You get the idea.

We know this already because life surprises us all the time. Like when we heard the Robin Williams news last week.

Things just happen. And we can’t see them coming.

The good news is that many of those things are not bad. And some are quite good.

I’ve just been thinking that maybe my life is a lot like how I thought it would be because I always thought this was “the way.”

You’re a little kid.

You go to grade school.

You go to high school.

You go to college.

You get a job.

You get married and have kids.

You try to get better jobs and raise your kids.

You retire and maybe travel in an RV, or live part of the year in Florida.

It’s hard for my brain to come up with things I haven’t seen or experienced. It’s hard for me to think beyond what I know.

That’s why I’m a writer in a safe corporate job at age 35, convincing people that often have less money than I do that they need to spend it on the things our company sells.

I was always so happy from childhood through college, and a bit beyond, that I never bothered to think about other ways to live a life, or what might happen if I was wrong.

Because, I was wrong.

What I’ve done, and what a lot of people do is A WAY. But certainly not THE WAY.

There’s no THE WAY.

Because while we all share so much deep-seated commonalities within our hearts and minds because of the human condition, we are all motivated by so many different things, and those motivating factors are changing constantly because of changing health or financials or children or death, or simply our individual passions and pursuits.

I want to get better at everything.

I want to get better at being a dad. A homeowner. A writer. A friend. A co-parent.

I want to get better at life.

And they don’t have a scoring system for that which matters. Some people measure it with checking accounts, or attendance records, or the cars in their garage, or their children’s achievements, or the photos they post to Facebook, or the job titles printed on their business cards.

And that’s fine. All of those can be good. And all can be bad. Most of the time, they really don’t matter.

In the end, our ability to thrive mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally in an ever-changing world is what gives us the balance we need to enjoy life. And I think people can achieve that balance and thrive regardless of their job, or their house, or where they graduated college, or how many people fawn over them at the next high school reunion.

There are all these things in life I want to do and experience, but I make excuses and just go to work 40 or so hours a week and hang out at home most of the time in a life that looks and feels a bit wasted.

I’d move somewhere fun! But my son is here and I can’t leave!, I’ll tell you.

I want to write and travel! But I need my job to pay for all of this… stuff!

I’d be hard-bodied and in the best shape of my life since I’m trying to attract a mate! But I’m still a little depressed over my failed marriage and the loss of my family last year so I don’t workout enough!

I always forget: Anything can happen.

I don’t know why I forget since we are constantly reminded.

We get so wrapped up in our little comfortable routines and we’re often too scared to leap. It doesn’t feel safe to leap.

But I WANT to leap. Maybe you do, too.

Because that clock is not slowing down and we only have one shot.

Because safe is boring.

Because the bad things that might happen are never really as bad as we imagine them.

Because we can handle it.

Because no matter how bad, good or great we have it, there is ALWAYS more to life than this. Than right now.

What’s possible today?

Anything.

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Why Kids Are Happier Than You

They're smiling because they know how to do something you don't.

They’re smiling because they know how to do something you don’t.

Kids are smarter than you.

When kids aren’t crapping their pants, exposing themselves in public or throwing temper tantrums because they’re not allowed to have candy five minutes before dinner, they’re smarter than you.

Not about everything.

I can run circles around my five-year-old son in academic contests.

“Hey dad! Do you know what 71+14 is!?!?”

“Yes.”

He’s always so impressed when I give him the answer even though I could have answered “93,” and he wouldn’t know the difference.

“Hey dad! Do you know how to spell ‘antelope’?”

“Totally.”

And even if I spelled “rhinoceros,” I’d probably get away with it.

He’s a sharp little dude. But he’s got a ways to go.

But I watch him.

He plays.

Smarter than me.

What’s great about this is even if you’re not a parent, you can remember doing this, too. Or you see it in restaurants and parks and shopping malls.

The kids play.

Smarter than us.

They run. They scream. They squeal. They dance. They laugh.

That’s what delight looks like.

That’s what fun looks like.

That’s what happy looks like.

And that’s precisely what all of us want.

Happy.

I Didn’t Want to Grow Up

At least, not once I got to college.

I still played.

It didn’t look quite like it did when I played with Star Wars, He-Man, and G.I. Joe action figures, turning my house into a different universe.

It didn’t look quite like it did when I spent hours mesmerized by The Legend of Zelda or Tecmo Bowl or Super Mario Bros. 3.

But I was playing. Always playing.

After dragging my feet in college, taking five years to graduate due to some career indecision and a whole bunch of partying, I was hired as a newspaper reporter at age 23 in a beach community near Tampa, Fla.

I’d been on a few trips to other places in my life, including Florida, but I was so saturated by the Midwest culture in which I grew up that I truly didn’t know it was different in other places.

When I moved to Florida, I thought it would be EXACTLY like what I had always experienced in Ohio, only it would be 85 degrees and sunny every day, while I drank beer and umbrella drinks on the beach jamming to live reggae music.

It wasn’t like that at all.

It was scary how different everything was. How far away I was from everything I knew and loved. It was time for me to grow up.

But I don’t want to grow up!

I wanted to play.

My girlfriend didn’t like that about me. It hurt her feelings, she said. And it made her question my maturity.

“We all have to grow up sometime,” she’d say.

You can’t get married and grow in maturity and have a happy and successful life if you’re partying with friends all the time!, the thinking seemed to be.

There’s no time for childishness. Not in the real world.

We need to be serious!

And responsible!

And go to work every day!

And pay our bills!

And do chores!

And take care of the lawn!

And keep the house clean!

Ehh. Maybe she’s right, I thought.

So, I stopped doing all those fun things.

I stopped playing.

And we got married.

I replaced the old games with new ones.

With poker. With movies. With music.

But the best times were still those long nights laughing with friends and having buzzed late-night sex.

I wonder if she thinks so, too.

Kids Know How to Play

But maybe you forgot.

I did.

Because I was in such a hurry to grow up. Because I was hell-bent on trying to make the woman I loved happy without ever stopping to wonder whether maybe she had it wrong.

Because how is all this growing up and being responsible working out for you?

Listen, I want you to pay your bills. I want you to go to work. And take care of yourself. And keep your house looking nice.

I’m not talking about neglecting responsibilities.

But, dammit, I AM talking about PLAYING.

Because this is bullshit. This rat-race game we’re all trying to play.

When did we all get brainwashed into believing this shit?

Who made the rule that in order to be an “adult,” you have to go work 40 hours a week in an office and tuck in your shirt and read biographies and not laugh at dick-and-fart jokes?

Because that rule is BULLSHIT.

I don’t want anything in this life but HAPPINESS for myself, my son, everyone we love, and all of the other people out there who crave happiness as well.

And I don’t think I always have to play by all these rules in order to achieve that. I’ve been playing by these rules for the better part of the past 15 years.

And what do I have to show for it?

A stack of bills, a stamped dissolution of marriage document, a part-time son and doing a bunch of things alone that I used to do with my wife.

It’s Time to Start Playing Again

We’ve gotta play.

We must.

I think this is one of the ways we’re gonna save ourselves.

Don’t you remember all the fun you used to have? And now you’re not having fun anymore. Sitting around doing “adult” things all time.

You know what? Fuck. That.

These rules are bullshit, and a bunch of us got brainwashed somewhere along the way. As if this was the only way to capture the “American Dream” or the spouse and 1.8 kids and the house in the suburbs.

I let other people make me feel guilty about the things that made me feel happy.

And now I feel shitty all the time UNLESS I’m doing all the things l love to do surrounded by people I love and who love me in return.

I’m so tired of feeling shitty.

And you must be, too. You must be. It’s so exhausting wearing that mask. Trying to play the role of mature adult and doing what you think everyone expects you to do rather than what you actually want to do.

I know what you want to do.

You want to feel happy.

Just like when we were kids. Running outside. Free. Innocent.

We squealed.

We danced.

We laughed.

We had fun.

We were happy.

Those kids are pretty smart. Yours. Mine. The ones we see lighting up the darkness.

I think I’m ready to start playing again.

Wanna play too?

A special thanks to T at “This Is Not My World” for inspiring this post.

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