Are you having fun?
Many adults can’t even remember what brings them joy.
Happiness becomes anything that gives them temporary relief from stress but this is not really joy.
When was the last time you played?
Really played, with other people who are actually present?
When was the last time you lost yourself in wild abandon?
There was an interesting Canadian experiment in the 1970s in a laboratory called Rat Park which gives us an incredible insight into the importance of play.
For years people thought addiction was the result of chemical hooks in the brain.
Rats had been put in small, bare cages by themselves.
In the cage there were two water bottles: one that had clean fresh water and one that had water laced with heroin or cocaine.
The rats continually went to the drugged water to get their hit until – yes, you guessed it – they overdosed and died.
Gosh what humans put rats through, let alone themselves!
But anyway, to the point of the experiment.
Everyone believed that was the nature of physical addiction.
But they didn’t factor in why the rat wanted the hit in the first place and why they felt compelled to continue to get the hit before the addiction set in.
In Rat Park they put the rats in cages with the same two water bottles.
But this time they gave them toys to play with and importantly, a playmate.
The rats hit the button to begin with, out of curiosity, but after that they never did again.
They didn’t need the hit because . . . surprise, surprise (not!) they were already happy.
They weren’t lonely, bored or sad. So, they didn’t need the hit of artificial pleasure and they didn’t get addicted.
“The overwhelming reason for addiction is the pain and isolation the individual feels,” says drug reform advocate Johann Hari. “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s human connection.”
Wow! Doesn’t this put a whole new slant on the nature of addiction.
And doesn’t that make sense in a world where people feel disconnected and starved of true human connection.
In fact many people are living in the equivalent of a cage (eg computer screen) without a playmate, even if they are married with children.
And before we dismiss the first rats as drug addicts who lacked discipline, remember that addiction can take many forms.
Addiction can be to food or work or TV or Facebook or Netflix or other forms of technology.
An addiction is really any behaviour that we indulge in that allows us to escape from a mundane life that has lost its joy and connection.
Yet the addiction, while giving temporary relief and distraction, leaves you back in a world just that much less joyful and connected.
It is one of the great ironies of life that the very thing we use to escape from emotional pain actually creates more of it.
Why? Because emotional pain or even just feelings that life is ‘blah’ or meaningless, is not meant to be escaped from.
It is meant to be an indication that change is necessary.
So, what to do?
Experiment with a technology (or your favourite distraction) free day at least once a week.
In fact, analyse everything you use to escape or do in excess: busy-ness, work, distractions, food, wine, TV, computer even reading then give yourself a break from it and see how you feel.
Some people are totally cool with just one day.
It’s actually a relief!
Great then continue to do it – your adrenals, nervous system, digestion and immunity will thank you, not to mention your emotional well-being.
Spend your extra time either truly connecting with loved ones in fun, joyful ways or giving yourself a break like resting or spending time in nature with no goal orientation.
Some people with even just one day begin to feel bored or somewhat anxious. That’s all ok. That is just the temptation of addiction and shows just how far down the path you are.
Then extend it to two days or a week. Or go away on holidays for a week with no book or technology and see how you go.
If you feel ‘blah’ have a look at what you can change to make a difference to your life. What can you do to bring meaning, passion, play and joy into your life?
You will find a whole new level of magic happens and your life opening up to new and wonderful possibilities.
You may also realise that major change needs to be made and some upheaval is necessary before you feel truly happy again.
But this invitation to change is a deep yearning from your soul to have a more blissful, meaningful and connected life.
Maybe it’s time to accept the invitation and see where it goes.
Big hugs and love to you