When you were a kid, summer activities were a great escape. Your only goal each day was to figure out the bigger thrill: hide and seek with the neighbor kids, a game of catch with your brother, or re-reading “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. You were completely free and fun was your only priority.
As an adult, when was the last time you spent a whole afternoon on an inflatable raft, sipping sun tea and reading a great mystery novel? If you took a day off last week but all you did was run errands, that doesn’t count. Crossing things off your to-do list might feel satisfying, but it rarely feels joyful. And joy is the name of the game, as the fields of neurology and psychoneuroimmunology are increasingly demonstrating how pleasure affects the health and longevity of the human body. It turns out that a certain amount of unbridled enjoyment is good for you.
The first step to having more fun with summer activities is carving out time for it. Make weekends sacred by setting good boundaries: Turn off work email on Friday afternoon and leave it off until Monday morning; dedicate at least an hour on a weekend day to ditching your smartphone; say no to some time-draining requests. And have fun with the following activities that may require little travel and some creativity.
Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
(1) Tour your city’s local landmarks. If you’ve already seen them all, (2) Design a custom tour based on your own personal interests like sampling local food or coffee. (3) Bike Geek? Take a ride to new locations or trails. (4) Explore the local art museums or (5) Explore non-art museums such as a variety of collections — history museums, science museums, children’s museums, transportation museums. In early summer, (6) Find a schedule of special summer events and pencil in the ones that interest you. Such as art fairs, block parties, neighborhood garage sales, concerts or movies in the park, ethnic food fairs, guided nature hikes in city parks, and community education classes.
Channel Your Inner Child
(7) Play catch with your sweetheart and refuse to talk about any logistics or responsibilities (groceries, bills, house repair, chores) while you play. (8) Hit the nearest water park and go down the biggest slide at least once. (9) Play soccer with your dog. If one ball gets destroyed in a tooth-puncture incident, just pull out another ball and keep going. Your dog will think you’re a wizard! In the evening, invite friends over to (10) Play board games and include a few that you played as a kid (Monopoly, Battleship) and include a wonderful new one called “Ticket to Ride”. (11) Re-create summer camp: Gather a small group of adult friends and organize a day of crafting and outdoor activities and build a fire in the evening and roast marshmallows.
Rediscover Your Yard
One night after work, (12) Have a family picnic in your backyard, followed by a game of Frisbee. (13) Have an open-air movie screening. Select a children’s movie and invite the neighborhood kids for a showing, or get a summer action movie and invite a group of adult friends. (14) Start a garden or expand your existing one. If you’re a gardening novice, just stick in one tomato plant or a short row of peas and see what happens. (15) Spend five minutes outside before work in your lawn chair with a cup of coffee and the paper, or just sit in silence. At night, (16) Spend a few minutes in the front yard enjoying the sunset and waving to the neighbors.
Make a Splash
Get off the dry land and (17) Swim. Choose whatever body of water feels most inviting — lakes, rivers, pools. If you swim regularly, then (18) Learn a new swim stroke. Spend quality time (19) Floating and staring at the sky. (20) Go tubing down the nearest river or (21) Water-ski on a nearby lake. When you’re done, (22) Skip stones along the shore.
Learn Something New
Make your summer filled with learning all the things you’ve wanted to try but have never gotten around to doing. Buy or check out some instructional CDs from the library and (23) Learn another language. (24) Learn the constellations; lying outside under the stars is half the fun, and share the knowledge with your family or friends. (25) Join or start a summer book club: Dive into all those “great summer reads” you’ve been collecting forever. (26) Trade an hour of TV time for an hour of time learning something through iTunes U where many university lectures are free or try YouTube, where you can learn almost anything. (27) Try out a new fitness or dance class and discover a type of movement you really love. (28) Learn to play guitar and get friends and family singing.
Dedicate Yourself to Laziness
Be sure to carve out some quality time to (29) Do absolutely nothing. And, so much the better while (30) Hanging in a hammock.