The Importance of Fun to Building Resilience

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

Here in Canada, we celebrate the first Monday in September as Labour Day, a day to remember all of the efforts of the people who have fought so hard for things like 5-day work weeks and 8-hour work days, overtime pay, paid holidays, and so many other things that are important to healthy, resilient people. What it often means in reality though, is that today is a last grasp of summer fun for many people.

School starts tomorrow and for many people (myself included) this is a return to the regular routines and rhythms that pattern our lives. Here in Canada especially, we start to move into our winter rhythms with shorter days and lots more cuddling in warm places. We savour our summer fun for as long as we can so that we can build our resilience towards the dark cold days ahead.

The idea of having fun, and of having not-so-serious things in our lives is something that often gets lost in the push to become more resilient and live more sustainable lives. I’m not talking about the fun things we do that make us more resilient. My wife loves to garden and to grow things, especially edible things that we can use in our kitchen. Yes, this is fun for her, and yes this makes us more resilient, but these aren’t the kind of things that I’m talking about.

The fun things I’m talking about are things that simply exist to be fun or entertaining. Things like art, music, poetry, trashy novels, roller coasters, movies, and all of the other things that we love but aren’t necessarily things we would associate with building resilience. These are things that are fun simply because they are fun.

When we talk about building resilience, we spend a lot of time talking about being more sustainable, bringing about equity in the world, doing things to mitigate the effects of emergencies and disasters, and lots of other really important things. We don’t talk about the importance that fun brings to building resiliency in people, communities, and organizations.

Photo by Emre Kuzu on

A few days ago, I gathered with a bunch of my former co-workers to celebrate a birthday. These are people who make their living as EMS dispatchers, helping people on the worst days of their lives. They’re also a group who knows how to have fun. I spent some time after the party reflecting on the nature of fun and how it builds resilience.

If we spend all of our time focused on resilience-building and none of it doing fun things, we eventually forget how to have fun. I know, because this happened to me.

I forgot how to have fun.

There were a lot of contributing factors, but at the end of the day I was so focused on the wrong things, I forgot how much fun it can be to just have fun.

I’m also learning about how having fun is important to building resiliency.

All work and no play makes Matt a dull boy…

In the last decade, I’ve had many good reasons (and probably just as many bad reasons) to work hard, to work long hours, and to work to excess. In the process, I’ve learned a lot of things about myself and about the nature of work. One of the most important things is that the work will always be there. What won’t always be there are the opportunities to have fun for the sake of having fun.

I have spent so much time focused on building a career and a family, I’ve forgotten how to build a life. I love what I do and I love my family, but I lost myself somewhere along the way.

I stopped being silly, and doing things just for fun.

My resilience suffered.

I didn’t have that stress relief, that downtime that focused on doing things not because I was supposed to, or had to, but doing them because they were fun. As a result, I stopped being fun and I started being dull and boring. I also lost that balance and perspective that comes with doing something totally unrelated to anything except fun.

So, I’m trying. I’m playing on playgrounds with my daughter again. I’m watching movies just for the sake of watching a movie instead of to learn something. I’m even going outside of my introvert comfort zone and going back to singing in a choir!

I’m hoping that this will help me bring some balance back into my life and to fit in some of those missing pieces of resiliency. I’m hoping that in the end, I’ll be a better person because I remember how to have fun.


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