The letters I write to you in each issue of YES! give me a chance to reflect. Honestly, when the editors first proposed an issue on pleasure well over a year ago, I thought, “Really? In the face of catastrophic climate change, pernicious structural racism, and an exploitation economy, we’re going to take a detour into having fun?” I love rocking out while doing the dishes as much as anyone. But I am mostly about getting stuff done.
I love a good list. I feel satisfaction in checking stuff off and knowing I’m on top of it. And yes, I have added items to my list that I’ve already done just to get that rush of accomplishment. Even things designed to bring pleasure—vacation, travel, entertainment—come with little boxes to check off.
As I study the cultures I am steeped in—family culture, White culture, the culture of capitalism (and the nonprofit version)—I can see how this happened. My personality type coupled with decades of cultural conditioning and praise for getting stuff done meant that pleasure, play, and fun felt superfluous and, frankly, selfish.
My son Niko is a master of play—he’s able to find it in anything. For him, nothing is worth doing if it can’t be made fun, and consequently not a lot gets “done” in his world, by my standard. More than once, I have said, “Niko! This is not about having FUN!” And then thought, “Did I just say that? What is wrong with me?”
In those moments I feel confused. Because the truth is I want to play too. But I’ve lost the ability to really appreciate it, much less do it. I cling to my lists, but I also resent how they rule my life. Pleasure rarely makes the list, and when it does, it never has the urgency of everything else that needs doing.
And yet the result of all this doing? I’m deeply tired. And the global and personal upheaval of the last two years has exacerbated these dysfunctional dynamics. I’ve heard from so many people that they are tired too. But mass-scale burnout is not an option.
So, I need this issue of YES!, and maybe you do too. I need a new model for the role of pleasure in my life, and for our broader culture. I need to learn how to experience pleasure without feeling guilty about it. I need to believe that joy, pleasure, and rest are as essential as exercise, love, and purpose. Thank you, YES!, for yet again opening me up to possibilities for a better world.
P.S.: We’re in the middle of our critical Spring Fund Drive and are looking for 50 new Founders’ Circle members. If you appreciate YES! and have the means, I hope you’ll join!