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How to Have More Fun in Life: Keep Your Thoughts from Pulling You Down

Lori-at-the-Petting-Zoo

“If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.” ~Bob Basso

A couple weeks back, my boyfriend and I went to our local county fair. I love—love—fairs.

Forget for a minute that adult-me now gets vertigo just looking at a roller coaster; and that my thirty-year-old digestive track nearly explodes when I catch a whiff of carnie food. When you factor in my increasing interest in crafts and farm animals, it somewhat evens out.

If you’re the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, thrill-seeker type, that might sound as exciting as watching paint dry. But I really do love petting furry little creatures and thinking about things I can make.

Standing in the petting zoo, surrounded by llamas, sheep, goats, and even a wallaby, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I hopped around to spend equal time with everyone; didn’t want the donkey to feel slighted. I played, I frolicked, I may even have skipped a little.

Truthfully, I would have been equally psyched just to sit back and be a farm voyeur. Just watching the animals scamper and seeing kids’ faces light up as they fed them, I felt happy and peaceful. I didn’t even mind when the goat bit my pant leg. He could have gnawed a hole into my favorite Seven jeans and I still would have found it charming.

Sunny little giggles, that rustic barn smell, the feeling of disconnection from chaotic urban life—everything about that moment appealed to me. I was having fun.

As my boyfriend dragged me out of the petting zoo to see an Eddie Money concert—his brand of fun—I wondered when I’d last felt so happy and free. I did plenty of things I enjoyed in the weeks prior. But none of it was exactly the same. Something was missing. Or perhaps more accurately, something was there most of the time.

That thing was the voice in my head. It sounded a little something like this:

“You quit your job. Are you getting too old for these kinds of risks? Is it really smart to not have insurance? What if you get in an accident and you still don’t have insurance? Did you renew the car insurance?  Should you sell the car? You don’t really drive it any way…”

And so on and so on. With so many changes in my life and so much on my plate these days, that little voice had been getting louder, and oftentimes it felt productive to indulge it. It wasn’t. That type of incessant thinking takes away far more than it gives.

It’s hard to be fully present and have fun when a part of you is getting lost in a mental maze.

Doing something you enjoy while judging, analyzing, worrying, fearing, or regretting in your head is like experiencing the world from inside a plastic bubble. You can see and hear everything, but it’s all diluted.

I don’t believe it’s possible to completely silence the nagging inner voice that constantly interprets and judges. That little mental hamster wheel will spin on occasion all throughout our lives.

But I do think it’s possible to slow it down and even stop it for lengths of time. It’s possible to bottle that farm experience (or whatever does it for you) to make presence, peace, and fun the norm and not the rarity.

It’s actually quite simple. Silencing the inner voice and experiencing more joy comes down to these three things:

  1. Practice mental quiet.
  2. Incorporate things you enjoy into your day and practice mental quiet while you experience them.
  3. Find things to enjoy in the things you don’t and practice mental quiet while you experience them.

Let’s break it down:

1. Practice mental quiet.

The mind is like a muscle. If you want it to perform for you in a certain way, you have to train it in advance.

Proponents of meditation recommend meditating for thirty minutes in both the morning and evening to produce a clearer mind. I’ll be honest with you: I’ve never done that, and I suspect I never will. But I do enjoy yoga.

A class is usually sixty to ninety minutes, which allows for at least an hour of moving meditation. Depending on what type of yoga you practice, you can even take a silent class.

If neither of those appeals to you, you could try one of these ideas:

  • Once a day, find a quiet place to do something that doesn’t require much thought: knitting, crocheting, or building model ships, for example. Focus solely on the activity and the sensations of doing it. Commit to breathing deeply and remaining silent throughout the whole experience and your brain will eventually slow down.
  • Once daily, sit in nature and simply observe. If your mind starts wandering, notice where it’s headed and then come back to your focus. At first you may feel tempted to get up or at least be mentally productive. With consistent practice, that will fade.

Just be sure to remove all distractions, especially distractions of the tech variety.

2. Incorporate things you enjoy in your day and practice mental quiet while you experience them.

This may seem somewhat obvious, but if my experience is any indication, it bears saying. Sure, I do things I love but there are a lot of things I love that I don’t do often, like spending time around animals.

I wondered about that while a lamb nuzzled up against my shin. Why didn’t I have some type of hobby that allowed me to be around animals? And what about the other things that I love so much that I easily get in the zone? Why when things get busy do I sacrifice yoga?

Sometimes we get so caught up in the things we think we should do or need to do that we forget to make joy a priority. Then when we do find pockets of time to do the things we love, oftentimes we’re somewhere else mentally, thinking about everything else.

The best way to challenge this is to create a list of things you love so much they have the potential to melt everything else away. Commit to doing some of these a little every day. Then when you’re doing them, observe your thoughts.

If you start judging, fearing, stressing, or analyzing, notice it and bring yourself back to the present moment. When my mind starts wandering, I tell myself a little something like this:

Stop. Put those thoughts aside. You can think them later if you want to. The most effective thing you can do right now is let yourself enjoy the moment. This moment—this joy—is what you work for. If you can’t enjoy it, the work is pointless.

3. Find things to enjoy in the things you don’t and practice mental quiet while you experience them.

There are plenty of things you’ll have to do in life that won’t seem fun in any way. I once had a doctor that was chronically a half-hour behind. I hated the time in his waiting room because I felt he was wasting my time. For years I’d show up and sit there seething, thinking all kinds of negative thoughts as if I was spiting him with my unspoken hostility.

It took me a long time to realize that open-ended downtime could be a gift. I could bring music, magazines, whatever, and use the time to recharge before the rest of the day. Since I was on someone else’s time, I could also use it to practice acceptance and mindfulness.

When I thought of it that way, the time seemed both more useful and more fun. I’d like to say that I was always a ray of sunshine in that waiting room, leading scores of once frustrated patients in rounds of Kumbaya. But that’s a lie. Sometimes I drifted back to annoyance, which quickly snowballed into other annoyances.

It’s all too easy for one little grievance to turn into a laundry list of judgments and problems, hence the second part of the equation: practice mental quiet.

When you’re in that situation that’s not quite so fun, it might take work to come back to your peace of mind. It’s worth it to make the effort. It may seem like we have an endless supply of moments in life but the truth is they are finite.

Every one counts if we make it count. Why not make it count?

When we were kids, fun was a priority. We always did the things we loved simply because we loved doing them. We didn’t stress about homework at the park because play time was for playing. A boring waiting room wasn’t an obstacle—it was where we played doctor (the G-rated kind).

There’s a whole lot of thinking that can get in the way of mindfulness and presence. The simple point of this somewhat long post: we can choose to quiet those thoughts, and get better at it with practice.

*That’s a picture of me at the petting zoo. Love those adorable animals!

Avatar of Lori Deschene

About Lori Deschene

Tiny Buddha Founder Lori Deschene is the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook series (which includes one free eBook) & co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an eCourse that helps you get unstuck & change your life. She's now seeking stories to include in her next book, 365 Tiny Love Challenges by Tiny Buddha. Click here to share your story! For inspiring posts and wisdom quotes, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter & Facebook.

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  • Rachael

    Thank you – this is exactly what I needed to read today!

    Plus I love petting furry creatures too and thinking about things I can make… great personal anecdote, I totally know what you mean. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/nikkifaith nikkifaith

    Looooove this post, Lori! I related to EVERYTHING you wrote about. Especially the part about the animals!! Spending time with an animal always brightens my day. In fact, this weekend, my husband and I took a trip a beach city and stayed a dog-friendly hotel so our little “fur baby” could come along with us. It was so relaxing. And, the way you found yourself with the animals was how I found myself at the beach. I always re-center and re-focus when I stare into those big ocean waves. I told my husband I always forget how magical the beach is for me, and that the next time I'm tense/stressed/anxious he needs to just throw me in the car and take me directly to the beach!

  • KarmaLampoon

    This is awesome! I just found your blog via twitter. Been checking out tons of blogs lately as I just get started with my own. Am by far the most impressed with your content, layout etc. I will definitely be a follower!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I'm glad you've enjoyed what you've read so far. Good luck getting started with your blog!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    That sounds awesome! I love the beach, too. It's just so peaceful and pretty there. Isn't it funny how sometimes we just forget to do things we love? I told my boyfriend something similar–remind me to get out to Half Moon Bay more often. It's right down the street, and it's a very charming, rustic environment with vegetable stands and farms. So awesome!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Great minds think alike! I used to love making afghans, but it's a little hot for the habit where I live now (in California). Still, it's cool to see that everyone in my family has an afghan I made on their bed. =) What kind of things do you like to make?

  • http://www.davesaunders.net/blog Dave Saunders

    Thanks for the post. I quit the corporate world about 10 years ago and have found the biggest challenge to be living in balance. A friend recently gave me a meditation cushion so I'm going to start that as a regular practice and use that cushion to help me set my mental state for quiet relaxation.

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  • Nikola

    I do mantain a peace of mind almost constantly. That voice that nags you is your ego mind. Trough practice you can make it shut up, but when it rears its head once in a while to suggest something, you can choose and ponder if it is the right thing to do. Mostly it is not, because it is impulsive.

  • http://uzma7.wordpress.com/ Uzma

    So true. The power to happiness and worry lies in our mind, in our reactions- learning to live in the moment is mindfullness, it is also what children do.And so should we. Thank u for this.

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  • http://alwayschallengeunhappiness.blogspot.com Erin

    Such a wonderful and heartfelt post. I would venture that these words came from inspiration as they seem to just flow off the page as I read them. Thank you for the wonderful information.
    I believe lately I have focused on making the best of situations I don’t necessarily love but this made me think about if I was making the best of them or if I was really finding some FUN out of them. I loved thinking about what my 5 year old daughter would do if she were in a waiting room. When I let my mind go to that extent, it becomes so creative (in my ever so fashioned adult way). I also thought of my husband and how he finds the time to fish or always to do something he loves. How he truly enjoys those moments and doesn’t let the world get in the way. I want to dive back into that as well.
    Thank you again. Fantastic post!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You are most welcome! I love what you wrote about wondering what your daughter would do. What a fantastic idea! I hope you’re having a wonderful, fun-filled weekend. =)

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  • http://www.fredtracy.com Personal Development | Fred

    This is very, very true. I love the little farm animals at the fair too! Last time one of them even gave birth right in front of us!

    Our inner voices have become conditioned to be so upset and serious all the time. Meditation (or yoga) is something I recommend to everyone. If you’re completely aware in the moment, you can’t not have fun.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Wow that must have been so cool to see! I always enjoy petting zoos, so I try to go to them often now. There’s one at Disneyland, and my boyfriend go there almost every week (We’re annual pass holders). It’s so true–when you’re in the present, it’s much easier to have fun.

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  • Felicia

    fun in life for ten year olds too not about u

  • p-tones

    thanx heaps :P xo

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome. =)

  • srini28

    I can relate to the mental maze that you describe a lot but the solutions don’t seem to work for me so much. The worries of the next day, next year, next 10 years totally consumes my present, especially during periods of change. As a result, I engage in activities that forcibly put in the moment – like listening to music, singing out loud, dancing, playing soccer, playing any outdoor sports, playing video games, bungee jumping, riding my bike, partying with friends, yoga, rhythmic chanting, Etc. Anything exhilrating or thrilling basically – anything to stop my mind from thinking about the thoughts that it usually does. The problem is that it’s not enough. What about the vast majority of the rest of my time? Like family time, like time playing with my daughter, Etc.? I can’t seem to enjoy them because of this stupid mental maze that you describe. Meditation almost makes it worse! The queiting doesn’t happen – instead I focus squarely on the worries and heck I feel like my brain will explode if I don’t stop. I admire those that are able to enjoy life while working productively toward their future. l Wish I had a good solution for this..it would change my life.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m sorry to hear about your painful mental maze! How often do you meditate? And how does it make it worse?