What's Fun Today?
Every morning my five-year-old son wakes up and asks, "What's fun today?" He wants to know if we're going on an outing, or playing with a friend, or seeing Grandma. You know; something "fun." A few times a week we do go on outings. Once a week we go see Grandma. But sometimes I don't have anything planned. Sometimes I just want to stay home and clean the kitchen or fold laundry.
"How about you play with your LEGOs while I fold the laundry?" I say on one of these recovery days. "Then later we can buy groceries at Whole Foods."
For a five-year-old who craves adventure, this is not a satisfactory answer. "How about the Franklin Park Zoo?" he counteroffers.
The Franklin Park Zoo is an hour of city driving away, and it costs about forty dollars to get in. That's a big jump from my plan for Whole Foods and laundry.
I have three little boys, the oldest of whom is five, and finding them exciting things to do every day can feel exhausting. Sometimes I am tempted to get a little testy with the early-morning negotiations. Sometimes I want to say, "There's nothing special today! Just get up and do your chores because you have to!"
And yet, I harbor a secret. I am more like my five-year-old than I let on. I find it hard to get out of bed unless I know there's something exciting in the day ahead of me. I too wake up and wonder, "What's fun today?"
The things I find fun are different from the things he finds fun, of course. He wants to explore new places, preferably with young friends. I want to put on my sneakers and run somewhere quietly and by myself. To me running is the most gratifying thing in the whole world. If I know I get to run later, I am so much more willing to get out of bed in the morning. If there's no exercise in sight for me then I'll still roll out of bed, I guess. But not as enthusiastically. Only because I have to.
The rest of my day—the non-running, meal-prepping, vacuuming, playing with my children part—feels much more palatable if I know a run is coming in the evening. With that small hope ahead of me, laundry can feel gratifying. Reading the same picture book over and over again doesn't make me feel so put-upon. Running is only 30 to 90 minutes of my day, sure. It's such a small hope. But that hope makes all the other minutes palatable.
I wonder if this is true for other people. Do others get through their days powered by tiny little hopes?
The last time I had four friends gathered around my coffee table I asked them this question: "What is it that makes you get out of bed every morning?" It turns out not everyone wakes up wanting to run or go to the zoo. But some people shared my tiny little hopes idea.
Two of my friends felt motivated by small pleasures awaiting them. One friend looks forward to her personal journaling time every day. Another has a weekly meeting at work that she finds encouraging, so the thought of this pushes her through the difficulties of the rest of the week.
My other two friends did not share my tiny hope hypothesis. They get up every morning in pursuit of big dreams. Pursuing advanced education to go onto more exciting careers—that sort of thing. Apparently, the thought of a better future two years down the road is enough for them to push through the drudgery of day-to-day life. I don't know . . . they must have a longer attention span than I do. Perhaps I have the attention span of a five-year-old. Because I need something fun, something small to hope for, every single day.
If you are like me and my five-year-old, if you are unmotivated by big nebulous goals, then here is my advice for you: go for a run. Unless you hate that, in which case you should go to the zoo. Or write in a journal or find a fun coworker to have lunch with. Or some other tiny thing that you can look forward to. You should think of it when you first wake up in the morning and see if that motivates your chore time or not.
To put it in terms a five-year-old can understand, I give you Pooh and Piglet on the subject:
"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.