Help! All These Holiday Events Are Starting to Feel Like Obligations

Our career coach Liz Bentley talks getting back in the spirit.

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Welcome to MarieClaire.com's brand-new job advice column courtesy of career coach Liz Bentley—check back often for her whip-smart real-world wisdom. Have questions of your own? Send them to careeradvice@marieclaire.com to get them answered right here.

Dear Liz: I hate to admit this, but I’m really bored this holiday season. Even all the parties and events I attend feel like a chore. I’m very busy at work, so I’m okay there because I don’t have time to be bored. What can I do to bring back some excitement into my life? — L.S., 27

Dear L.S.: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." In other words, if you don’t play you become bored and boring. As my grandmother would say, “only boring people get bored.” This is why it is critical to chase fun. I choose the word “chase” because fun is not something we typically prioritize in our lives and go after. In general, our culture rewards hard work, results and achievements. Our lives get so busy and our “to do” lists grow so long that we never feel we can take the time to relax and play guilt-free. The constant demands for productivity at work and home push us to create routines for efficiency. And while these routines may create calm, they can also create monotony and dullness. Our “fun activities” can become so choreographed or scheduled that the excitement and joy gets extinguished.

At first glance, most people think their lives are relatively fun. They have dinners with friends, see shows and movies, have hobbies, and attend events that make them feel like they’ve had a good time. While all of that is fine on paper, it doesn’t necessarily translate to real FUN. I mean the type of fun that makes you laugh ‘til your belly hurts, makes you feel young, renewed and energized, pushes you out of your comfort zone, and brings real joy to your soul. This is the kind of play that builds new synapses in your brain, makes you feel alive and increases your endorphins. Real fun moves you and changes you in positive ways. It not only makes you happy, it makes you interesting—not just to others, but to yourself.

You are recognizing that you lack this state of mind in yourself. Perhaps the holidays put it front and center for you. That’s a good thing because now you can take steps to actively chase fun through play, which is one of the key ingredients to happiness. Studies have shown that the absence of feeling bad isn’t enough to make you happy. In other words, NOT being miserable doesn't mean you’re happy. In fact, many people look at their lives and think it’s “good enough,” which is a mindset killer for play and a fun-filled life. Here is a guide to help you reinvigorate your life and get it back on the fun track.

Distinguish real fun from fake fun: Be honest with yourself! Just because you are “relaxing” or doing an activity doesn’t mean it’s fun. Furthermore, what was once fun doesn’t mean it is still. Don’t just fill up your time, do something really rewarding.

• Do something new: Get out of your routine and seek an adventure. Travel to a new destination and experience a different culture or pick up a new activity. Start a new sport, game or language and if possible make it competitive. Join a league so you are forced to practice and get better at your skill. The new year provides the perfect impetus. Make it a resolution!

• Be spontaneous: Sometimes it’s the safety and predictability of life that traps us. Some of the best times in life happen by accident. Get into flow by allowing a playful moment to evolve organically.

• Get recruits: As Mark Twain once said, “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.” Convince your spouse, friends or family to get on board and make play fun. Real joy comes from sharing your life with the people you love. Especially old friends who connect you back to memories, humor, and emotions from your past.

• Move out of comfort zone: Don’t assume that fun is supposed to be easy. Sometimes fun is doing the things that are really hard and that take time and effort. Part of the fun is the challenge. Push yourself to take your game to the next level. Set goals and experience the satisfaction that comes from the process of working toward them. The importance of seeking fun cannot be undervalued. Look at your life and redefine your meaning of fun and play. Don’t be overwhelmed if the answers don’t come immediately.

Practice chasing fun and remember happiness is not the absence of feeling bad; it comes from striving to feel good. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “if you never did, you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”

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