ll work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is a saying that has been said since the 17th century. It means that when a person fails to spice up her life with interesting and entertaining activities — concentrating instead only on what needs to be done — she ends up flat and frustrated.

She’s bored because her activities are all task-oriented; they’re necessary but fail to inspire or “spark joy.” Brushing teeth, cleaning dishes, tending to the needs of the family, the home, and the job — all these tasks need to be done. They’re beneficial and necessary, even meaningful and important, but lack the quality of “fun.” They’re good, but not pleasurable. (Of course, some may find many aspects of basic tasks like cooking and cleaning to be deeply pleasurable.)

When someone enjoys an activity, it fills her with positive energy and revitalizes her mentally, physically, and spiritually. She looks forward to doing it, thinks about it, plans it, perhaps even daydreams about it. Knowing that she’ll soon be doing it makes the time fly by so the stress of the less satisfying but necessary activities is reduced. The “play” aspect of life enlivens all other aspects. Without it, the other aspects can become drab and gray.

Someone who focuses only on responsibilities is not just bored, but boring too. She emits her drab and gray energy to others. Her lack of passion or joie de vivre drains those around her. She isn’t interesting. She isn’t fun.

The Business of Life

Due to their nature, and sometimes due to mental health issues, some people overemphasize the details of life. A mother may forbid a child to play outside all summer long for fear of soiling nice clothes. A father may always insist that a child sit up at the table and issue sharp reprimands for slouching. A spouse may berate a partner for failing to get the kids to sleep by 8:03 p.m.

Home becomes a dangerous environment, filled with stress and strain as small issues become the large focal point of life. Implications of dire consequences chill the atmosphere. Lightheartedness and the spirit of fun are nowhere to be found.

“My wife is a drill sergeant. She’s constantly barking orders to the kids, and I can’t stand listening to it. It’s ‘You need to clean up now,’ ‘You need to do your homework,’ ‘You need to put away the laundry’ and so on. I see how the kids try to avoid being near her for fear of receiving another order. It’s all business with her. There’s no warmth there.”

There is a lot that needs to be done each day. But parents can insert fun into home life by sprinkling interesting and entertaining conversation between demands. When focused on connecting and building relationships, they can make tasks seem virtually invisible. It becomes more about being together and enjoying each other’s company than about loading the dishwasher or folding the laundry.

Often a person brings a heavyheartedness into home life because she learned this in her own home growing up. Sometimes a person is just born with a serious or highly anxious nature and can’t let go.

“My husband’s standards are impossibly high. He wants the kids to make their beds ‘army style’ and he treats a sloppy sheet like it’s the end of the world. I don’t want my kids thinking that these little details are the point of life. Love is the point of life; neat beds are nice, but they’re just beds. I don’t know how to get him to dial down his intensity and perfectionism, how to stop him from imposing all this on the rest of us.”

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Once a person recognizes that the uninspiring atmosphere of her home is a reflection of her own focus, she can change it. She can move her attention to the way it feels in a room, rather than the way it looks. She can use words to connect through stories, humor, and interesting conversation instead of using them primarily to get things done. And she can measure the smiles on the faces of her loved ones instead of measuring their performance.

When warmth and joy are the focus of home life, every member of the family thrives. No beautifully made bed can top that!

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 646)