When A Work Ethic Conflicts With Fun

06/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I have a friend who recently divorced and is now dating a much younger man. She seems to be having lots of fun in her 'new life' after 20 or so years of marriage. Having been married 34 years, I believe that having fun is a key to a happy marriage and healthy life. When you stop playing, doing things just for fun, and laughing, some of the glue of marriage and the life you have together starts to come undone.

My husband and I love walking for fun. We walk miles and miles - to the beach, downtown, to Starbucks, lunch, or just around town. He also loves gadgets and cool things for transportation like his Segway, Vespa, and Smart Car and playing tennis for fun. I love to paint, do yoga, and read for fun. We both like to travel and watch movies. We fill each day with something fun, and I am sure this has been one key to our happy marriage.

But, with work, kids, and household tasks, having fun seems beyond our reach at times. I remember when our kids were younger; it was so full of homework and the demands that school brings (to parents as well as kids) that 'having fun' was sometimes lost in the mix. Many kids, especially those with even mild learning issues, get stuck in the mass of home 'work' and fun is hard to find. Organized sports may be fun, but are often full of practice drills, and a focus solely on winning. Luckily my one son played videogames (fun), my daughter danced (fun), and my other son loved to hike or be in nature (fun). They each found a way to engage in fun and built it into those pressure-filled years.

Scientists are showing that play is important for health and well-being, having fun makes us live happier and healthier lives. So what stops us from having fun? It takes effort to remember to have fun as an adult because our culture places a heavy emphasis on work; some cultures, some families, some communities more than others. We also draw a distinction between 'work' and 'play' with the two rarely going hand in hand. In the aftermath of a 3three day holiday, I spoke with a friend of mine asking her what she did over the weekend. She replied, "I worked right through it" (trying to get a project finished she has due soon).

She, like I, am from the Midwest and it seems to me that people from the Midwest often pride themselves on their work ethic, somewhat a little too much. I recently read that regional cultures can shift the behavior of their members quite dramatically. For example, researchers have shown that men from the U.S. Southeast act differently than men from the U.S. northeast when it comes to 'defending their honor' in times of confrontation. Regional differences may account for some of the Midwestern emphasis on work, but I'm not sure it's been a topic of research to be honest. My own anecdotal evidence comes from people I know from the Midwest (as I was at one time) who are overwhelmed with 'guilt' if they ever skip a workday for fun or worse yet, raise the value of fun to the same level as work. At least in my childhood, we had drilled into us the value of work over fun at pretty much all costs.

A friend from the Midwest (raised in the 60s) shared a story with me the other day about a letter she had found in her parent's attic, written by her as a 5th grader. She had penned, 'when I grow up I will have the hardest job in the world. I will work harder than any one else. I will get up early to go to work and work and work until late at night'.

There was no glimmer of what she might do at this work. The concept she had learned to value was merely 'work.' I hope my own children have learned the value of balancing work and play and stay centered on a teeter-totter of both, remembering to keep fun alive at all times of their lives, with their spouses, children, and my husband and I as we age.

Sometimes we all forget the value of fun and play. But, remembering it everyday makes for a happier and healthier life and future for us all. We all know the saying "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," but according to Wikipedia, it had its origins in Egypt some 2400 B.C.

"One that reckons accounts all the day passes not a happy moment. One that gladdens his heart all the day provides not for his house. The bowman hits the mark, as the steersman reaches land, by diversity of aim".

Diversity in behavior seems to win over either extreme, in the past as it does today. We just need to adjust and readjust to keep the two in balance.