Be Nice, Have Fun
Could the lessons we learned in preschool inform a lucid manifesto at this stage in the game?
On a Saturday afternoon in late March, I found myself sloshing around in the dirty spring slush under the Tram at the Jackson Hole ski areas, swaying to the sounds of the Dreadlocks (our local Grateful Dead cover band). I was surrounded by other greying, grizzled ski bums drinking hazy IPA while rubbing shoulders with the next generation of adventure-seeking millennials looking like they walked out of a photoshoot for Patagonia. Local pre-teen girls in their tight ski racing suits and furry pom pom hats held hands as they slinked through the crowd of rowdy spring breakers scarfing jello shots dressed in iridescent down coats, black leggings, and Moon boots. I tipped my head up to watch the last tram of the day head up the mountain, then closed my eyes for a minute to let the warm sunshine soak in.
I turned to my girlfriend and said, “I was here last weekend listening to music, and as I stood there, I felt guilty. I scolded myself for feeling good. Who am I to be here having so much fun when people in Ukraine are suffering, a coworker is at home with a baby with Covid despite two years of total isolation, and the Jackson Hole ski area is melting out a month earlier than usual?” I wondered.
But then told her, “I decided it’s my job in these f*#@ed up times to enjoy every good aspect of life that comes my way … and spread it. I can’t control any of those other things, but I can control what I do right now, at this moment.” I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and whispered to her, “I decided it’s our job to have fun.”
While this sounds trite, the more I thought about it, the more things fell into place with what I’ve 1) been doing since graduating from college and; 2) have been thinking might be a secret weapon against the political division, hate, and violence smothering our world. Can this simple manifesto inform the positive change we are all craving? Are my musings the unrealistic goals of an Enneagram 7 or the unique gift we have to offer others?
Supporting this philosophy is my steadfast belief that manifesting more good on the planet depends on focusing on the good, starting with believing in the essential goodness of most people. Yep, you heard me right. Despite what the media and my dad would like to convince me, I stand with Rutger Bregman and the compelling arguments made in Humankind: A Hopeful History. Bregman posits that humans are hardwired for kindness and cooperation and that the implicit assumption that humans are inherently bad is standing in the way of creating lasting societal change.
Critical to buying into Bregman’s theory is understanding there are psychotic madmen (and a few madwomen) willing to lie, cheat, and steal for power. But most people, even those doing and saying what we perceive as bad things, are doing them because they are convinced they are doing them for good reasons. Bregman argues that rather than being suspicious and on guard all the time, we instead approach our days with complete trust in the goodness of others. Yes, once in a while, we’ll be duped, but it’s better than being paranoid. I hate feeling paranoid.
I am a fun hog. I seek it out every day through adventure, exercise, friendships, good food and beverage, family, dogs, nature, games, and creativity. Without a considerable amount of time spent every day on fun, I’d never have the energy to write, run for political office, or work on audacious projects like trying to change the trajectory of tourism in the Tetons.
Manifestation is the process of turning a specific desired outcome into reality through focused visualization, unwavering belief, and intentional action. Can we manifest more good by being nice and having fun? It seems like it’s worth a try. Am I too old to be constantly seeking fun? Does growing up and growing old mean you stop having fun? If what we believe informs how we act, can we act in such a way that will make it so?
When I lose my resolve to be nice, when I become infuriated by the conspiracy theories and racism and hate and political division and book banning and misinformation and Elon Musk buying Twitter and want to lash out, I play this fantastic video of Charlie Chaplin speaking to why we (highlighting my home in the Tetons) can take back our power when we choose to be free and adventurous. To me, this is a compelling ambition.
“You, the people, have the power - the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.” -Charlie Chaplin
Poke holes in this! Can this really be a manifesto for a better life? For regenerating your spirit so you can get stay in the ring? For getting us out of the American Rat Race? There are certainly plenty of people flocking to the Tetons and every other beautiful, cool place to live in search of the lifestyle we have cultivated here, but they aren’t necessarily all being “nice.”
As I apply this parenting to parenting, work relations, a doctor’s visit, an interaction with a gas station attendant, my elderly uber-conservative dad, my equally conservative neighbors I pass walking the dog, my kid’s teachers, and even the media I consume or choose to ignore, it makes more sense every day. I was in a deteriorating competitive situation with another) “tiger mom” recently, and this thought floating across my temporal lobe saved the day, and possibly our friendship. Is a culture of change possible when we replace competing with wishing others well? When, in the culture wars, there are no winners and thus no losers?
Does there need to be more to this manifesto? Our local bike shop, Fitzgeralds Bicycles, has a mantra I like: Chop Wood. Ride Bike. Eat Food. It at least suggests fun. I know I should add Slow Down, but I never seem to. I’m intentionally not including Work Hard because most of us are already working too hard. Do No Harm would be a good addition … I do strive to Cultivate Compassion; Be Nice simplifies that concept.
In starting this Substack newsletter, some great tutorials suggested identifying and narrowing your audience was critical to success. The instructor asked, “What do you want your audience to do? Boom. That’s it! Be Nice, Have Fun; that’s what I want you, my reader, to do.
I’ll leave you with this final thought that assuages the slight discomfort I have shouting “Just Have Fun” to the rooftops. I’ve had it scribbled on a Post-it on my desk for months but don’t know the author (Edward Abby? Walt Whitman?).
“His idea of having fun was not the easy road, but the type of fun that comes from getting the most out of each day, from knowing you gave it your all, from doing your best.” - unknown
Give it a try! What do you have to lose? Let me know how it goes.
Love it, Sue; well said. Life doesn't have to be as hard as many [possibly most] people make it. Be thoughtful, nice, enjoy life however we chose and possibly it will be contagious. Enjoy your day!
Found your site just today; really appreciate your writing and perspectives. I haven't found a voice lately that I've been able to connect with so quickly and your writings feel like the first signal in a while that's been able to direct my thoughts in more productive directions. I've found so much to unpack and examine here. Many great topics to discuss with my Labrador on our daily hike...