Read CHAPTER III. Amusements of As a Matter of Course, free online book, by Annie Payson Call, on ReadCentral.com.

The ability to be easily and heartily amused brings a wholesome reaction from intense thought or hard work of any kind which does more towards keeping the nervous system in a normal state than almost anything else of an external kind.

As a Frenchman very aptly said:  “This is all very well, all this study and care to relieve one’s nerves; but would it not be much simpler and more effective to go and amuse one’s self?” The same Frenchman could not realize that in many countries amusement is almost a lost art.  Fortunately, it is not entirely lost; and the sooner it is regained, the nearer we shall be to health and happiness.

One of the chief impediments in the way of hearty amusement is over-seriousness.  There should be two words for “serious,” as there are literally two meanings.  There is a certain intense form of taking the care and responsibility of one’s own individual interests, or the interests of others which are selfishly made one’s own, which leads to a surface-seriousness that is not only a chronic irritation of the nervous system, but a constant distress to those who come under this serious care.  This is taking life au grand serieux.  The superficiality of this attitude is striking, and would be surprising could the sufferer from such seriousness once see himself (or more often it is herself) in a clear light.  It is quite common to call such a person over-serious, when in reality he is not serious enough.  He or she is laboring under a sham seriousness, as an actor might who had such a part to play and merged himself in the character.  These people are simply exaggerating their own importance to life, instead of recognizing life’s importance to them.  An example of this is the heroine of Mrs. Ward’s “Robert Elsmere,” who refused to marry because the family could not get on without her; and when finally she consented, the family lived more happily and comfortably than when she considered herself their leader.  If this woman’s seriousness, which blinded her judgment, had been real instead of sham, the state of the case would have been quite clear to her; but then, indeed, there would have been no case at all.

When seriousness is real, it is never intrusive and can never be overdone.  It is simply a quiet, steady obedience to recognized laws followed as a matter of course, which must lead to a clearer appreciation of such laws, and of our own freedom in obeying them.  Whereas with a sham seriousness we dwell upon the importance of our own relation to the law, and our own responsibility in forcing others to obey.  With the real, it is the law first, and then my obedience.  With the sham, it is myself first, and then the laws; and often a strained obedience to laws of my own making.

This sham seriousness, which is peculiarly a New England trait, but may also be found in many other parts of the world, is often the perversion of a strong, fine nature.  It places many stones in the way, most of them phantoms, which, once stepped over and then ignored, brings to light a nature nobly expansive, and a source of joy to all who come in contact with it.  But so long as the “seriousness” lasts, it is quite incompatible with any form of real amusement.

For the very essence of amusement is the child-spirit.  The child throws himself heartily and spontaneously into the game, or whatever it may be, and forgets that there is anything else in the world, for the time being.  Children have nothing else to remember.  We have the advantage of them there, in the pleasure of forgetting and in the renewed strength with which we can return to our work or care, in consequence.  Any one who cannot play children’s games with children, and with the same enjoyment that children have, does not know the spirit of amusement.  For this same spirit must be taken into all forms of amusement, especially those that are beyond the childish mind, to bring the delicious reaction which nature is ever ready to bestow.  This is almost a self-evident truth; and yet so confirmed is man in his sham maturity that it is quite common to see one look with contempt, and a sense of superiority which is ludicrous, upon another who is enjoying a child’s game like a child.  The trouble is that many of us are so contracted in and oppressed by our own self-consciousness that open spontaneity is out of the question and even inconceivable.  The sooner we shake it off, the better.  When the great philosopher said, “Except ye become as little children,” he must have meant it all the way through in spirit, if not in the letter.  It certainly is the common-sense view, whichever way we look at it, and proves as practical as walking upon one’s feet.

With the spontaneity grows the ability to be amused, and with that ability comes new power for better and really serious work.

To endeavor with all your might to win, and then if you fail, not to care, relieves a game of an immense amount of unnecessary nervous strain.  A spirit of rivalry has so taken hold of us and become such a large stone in the way, that it takes wellnigh a reversal of all our ideas to realize that this same spirit is quite compatible with a good healthy willingness that the other man should win ­if he can.  Not from the goody-goody motive of wishing your neighbor to beat, ­no neighbor would thank you for playing with him in that spirit, ­but from a feeling that you have gone in to beat, you have done your best, as far as you could see, and where you have not, you have learned to do better.  The fact of beating is not of paramount importance.  Every man should have his chance, and, from your opponent’s point of view, provided you were as severe on him as you knew how to be at the time, it is well that he won.  You will see that it does not happen again.

Curious it is that the very men or women who would scorn to play a child’s game in a childlike spirit, will show the best known form of childish fretfulness and sheer naughtiness in their way of taking a game which is considered to be more on a level with the adult mind, and so rasp their nerves and the nerves of their opponents that recreation is simply out of the question.

Whilst one should certainly have the ability to enjoy a child’s game with a child and like a child, that not only does not exclude the preference which many, perhaps most of us may have for more mature games, it gives the power to play those games with a freedom and ease which help to preserve a healthy nervous system.

If, however, amusement is taken for the sole purpose of preserving a normal nervous system, or for returning to health, it loses its zest just in proportion.  If, as is often the case, one must force one’s self to it at first, the love of the fun will gradually come as one ignores the first necessity of forcing; and the interest will come sooner if a form of amusement is taken quite opposite to the daily work, a form which will bring new faculties and muscles into action.

There is, of course, nothing that results in a more unpleasant state of ennui than an excess of amusement.  After a certain amount of careless enjoyment, life comes to a deadly stupid standstill, or the forms of amusement grow lower.  In either case the effect upon the nervous system is worse even than over-work.

The variety in sources of amusement is endless, and the ability to get amusement out of almost anything is delightful, as long as it is well balanced.

After all, our amusement depends upon the way in which we take our work, and our work, again, depends upon the amusement; they play back and forth into one another’s hands.

The man or the woman who cannot get the holiday spirit, who cannot enjoy pure fun for the sake of fun, who cannot be at one with a little child, not only is missing much in life that is clear happiness, but is draining his nervous system, and losing his better power for work accordingly.

This anti-amusement stone once removed, the path before us is entirely new and refreshing.

The power to be amused runs in nations.  But each individual is in himself a nation, and can govern himself as such; and if he has any desire for the prosperity of his own kingdom, let him order a public holiday at regular intervals, and see that the people enjoy it.