“Life is more fun if you play games.” –Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald
On a lovely recent evening, I was out in the yard playing with my wife and kids, when up to the curb zoomed a turquoise motorbike. You know the kind: not quite fast enough to be on the freeway with the “real” motorcycles, but fast enough to give you a jolt of adrenaline and make you feel carefree as you zip around town in the fresh air. Anyway, there it was in front of my house. Just as I was thinking, “Oh, I bet that’s fun,” the driver pulled off her helmet and revealed herself as a friend who lives down the way a few blocks, smiling in the delight of her adventure. She had only had her new toy for a few days, as we came to learn, and it was obvious that the novelty had not worn off.
She was clearly tickled by it, and her giddiness came through as she described the whole process from longing to owning. She said she had wanted one for several years and told herself that if she made it to 40—she is a multiple cancer survivor and has a keen sense of how few and precious our days are—that she would treat herself to her dream ride. So, a few weeks early (which is even better, I think), she picked out her favorite color, named it Shirley after her grandmother, and sped out of the dealership with a hoot and a smile from ear to ear (or so I picture it).
I loved everything about her story, and I could tell from her glow that the splurge was already worth it. How do you put a price on pure Delight? Joy and Freedom, though often hard won after years of psychological strain and slow maturity, sometimes also just come in a package. Or off a dealer’s lot. I absolutely love it when I hear of people—grown people–finding that toy that makes their soul dance and their heart sing. Those are my favorite stories. They show people displaying what I think of as Courage, a willingness to reach out and stake a claim to their own Joy, sometimes (though definitely not always) at the cost of their hard-earned money that some people in their life will no doubt say is being thrown away on childish silliness. I say, “PLAY ON!”
I seem to spend most of my life in search of those toys that scratch the many itches of my soul. I place a high premium on Delight. I feel it deepest when I feel free. I feel most free when I am creating or playing (outdoors), the times when I have cut myself free from the usual psychological chains around my existence. So I seek those out those experiences. And when I find a toy that facilitates that Freedom and thus that Delight, I fantasize (and often obsess) and save and, when I am lucky, make it mine.
I need only think of things I have had on my Christmas List or saved up “Birthday Money” for in recent years to see what lights me up. Journals. Guitar. Kayak. Computer and iPad. Pens. Tent. Bike. Camera. Hammock. RipStick. Music. Headphones. When I look at these things that have been my splurges, I see a lot of escape. So many different ways to be free, to play, to relax, to release my creativity, to let it all go. Those are the makings of a good toy, right?
Freedom and Expression are wonders that we don’t necessarily allow ourselves on a day-to-day basis, whether because we get lost in our busy-ness and the tedium of our many tasks, or because we don’t feel worthy of “spoiling” ourselves with treats and Delight. I wish we weren’t so much this way. Life is just so short, and it is plenty difficult without us denying ourselves of the experiences that excite our spirits. Aren’t these the real tools of Self-Care? I appreciate someone who mines their sources of Joy and Freedom with a determined passion. They seem to know a secret that eludes the majority of us.
I recall many years ago, as a young adult, an old friend asking how my brother was. After I replied that he was doing well, the person said, “He always seems to be doing something fun.” That struck me at my core. I knew I wasn’t really doing it right, that people probably weren’t saying that about me. I have been trying to do better ever since.
Speaking of my brother: he has the quintessential toy that keeps on delivering on the Freedom and Delight that define a toy’s purpose. When he was 16, after pining for years, he convinced my old man to get him this old Jeep that had been rotting forever unused on the family farm. He and his buddies spent months getting it to run and painting it Coca-Cola red with black trim. It was the best kind of toy for a teenage boy: open air cab without doors or roof, big speakers, romping through mud with your buddies, attracting the teenage girls. It had it all. What makes it truly rule Toyland, though, is that it still has it all. Yes, more than three decades later, when the weather warms up each Spring, I still get a text with a new video of him cruising around in the fresh air with his kids in “The Freedom Machine,” as it is so appropriately named. Freedom. Release. Joy. An expression of the soul. That’s a toy! And that’s what we so desperately need at every age.
I suppose everyone has a different idea of what will do that for them. I think of things that are still on my list: a big-screen iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard, snow shoes, jet ski, a great bike rack and new mountain bike to go with it, Photoshop, and a ukulele. In one form or another, they are all tickets to ride. Means to adventure and to create, to be outdoors and to express what is inside of me. Seeing that commonality is helpful to me, a map toward more treats, more fun. In that vein, I can also understand my friend’s motorbike impulse, and my brother’s history of skis and windsurfers and such (and his recent dirt bike purchase). I can also see anything artistic: paint sets, sketchbooks, musical instruments, journals (of course!), and apps for things like graphics and movie-making. I once saved up for a fancy blender, so I can understand people for whom a toy might be an Instant Pot, a stand mixer, or cake decorating set. I get anything that is a connector to Mother Nature, which could be a million different things, including a new pair of walking shoes, a headlamp, binoculars, backpack, gardening tools, swimming goggles, and a golf club. I recently got Apple Music, and believe me, I have been like a kid in a candy store ever since, delighting in the wonder of such a vast library of transcendence and escape. It is infinite Delight.
I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to conceive of a toy, too. It can obviously be a splurge of a purchase, but it can also be something inexpensive that sets you free creatively or psychologically. Whatever it is for you, the thought of it has to stir up your heart with butterflies and waves of excitement or longing. The getting of it has to scratch a major itch of the soul, making you giddy at the Joy, Freedom, and Release it will provide. It must bring genuine Delight. It has to be your Freedom Machine.
I plan to keep playing and keep fantasizing about new toys until the end of my happy adventure through Life.
How about you? What sorts of toys still light you up inside? Open up your journal and your memory, and try to recall all of the things of your adulthood that have truly been a Delight for your mind and your heart. What things come immediately to mind? Are they adult versions of conventional kid toys, like bicycles or video games or dolls? Or are they things only an adult might like, such as an Instant Pot or a chainsaw? Do you gravitate toward artistic/creative toys, like cameras, musical instruments, paints, and journals? Do you like things that will provide an adrenaline rush to an otherwise not-so-thrilling existence, things like motorcycles, snowboards, and sleds? Are you a gadget person, preferring things like drones, tablets, and fitness trackers? Are kitchen toys your thing? Apps? What about exercise toys, like home gyms, fancy bikes, or running gear? How about outdoorsy stuff, such as tents, water filters, and trekking poles? Is music a toy for you? Books? What is it that excites you about each thing on your list? Taken as a whole, do you see common themes running through? Are they similar to my Freedom and Expression themes, or quite different? Do the things that bring you Delight tend to cost a lot of money, or are they rather inexpensive? If you could splurge on one big-ticket item right now that would make you absolutely giddy, what would it be? What else is on your current Wish List? Do the themes of this Wish List mirror the themes of the list of adult toys you already have? Are your soul itches still essentially the same, or have they evolved as you have aged? What kinds of toys once appealed to you but no longer do? What are your newest desires? Can you pinpoint the reasons for your changes? Are you clearer now about what tickles you? Will you ever be too old to seek out toys and to play? Which toy that you use now will you still be using decades from now? What gives that toy its timelessness? How well have you done throughout your life at treating yourself to toys and allowing yourself to play? Is their enough Fun in your life right now? What is one toy that you could reasonably treat yourself to immediately in order to give your spirit a boost? Will you? If not now, when? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you still feel a childlike Delight with a new toy?
Let your spirit fly,
P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with someone who might need it. We could all use a little boost from our friends once in a while.
P.P.S. If this way of self-examination appeals to you, consider purchasing my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.