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Exercising Life with Fun and Play

Kids playing football in Pokhara, Nepal

It's one thing to see less fortunate people on the street and have the urge to help them, but it's something else entirely to have almost one hundred children staring at you hoping that you'll do something to improve their future.

It was my second day visiting the schools in Nepal and I had been greeted like a king and given my first-ever public speech a few hours earlier. I was feeling extremely moved and inspired by how I might be able to help so many people.

As I hiked from the first village of Kahule to the even more remote village of Bhalche, the strangest thought came to me: How could I fulfill this urge to dedicate my life to helping improve the world and still justify skydiving?

For that matter, how could I justify doing anything recreational or fun that wasn't directly related to helping others?

How could I spend days hiking or camping in remote forests, snowboarding down beautiful mountains of snow and ice, or allow myself to become immersed in a stimulating computer game?

What about my aspirations to become a triathlete, master scuba diver, and airplane pilot?

What about my endless love for learning and studying various fields of technology like computer programming, network security, robotics, amateur radio, and electronics (just to name a few)?

Did I have to throw all of that out the window if I wanted to dedicate my life to helping others?

Over the past few weeks I've spent a lot of time thinking about that question and contemplating how fun and play fit into the greater scheme of things. I recalled how my dad always posed the question, "Why do children play hide-n-seek?". His response was always the same: "They just do. It's fun."

When we become adults, we don't stop playing. We just become a little more serious and change the name from "fun and play" to "hobbies and interests".

But could a hobby that appears to only benefit ourselves be used to help others?

I realized that one of the best ways to increase the value of our hobbies is to share them -- the simple act of sharing turns even the most mundane hobby into a source of value.

For example, the Frugal Travel Reports that I publish at the end of every month have become somewhat of a hobby for me. Every day I write down and categorize my expenses. The activity helps me work towards my goal of living frugally and helps keep me accountable. It's fun, but in the greater scheme of things is it really that important?

Will these reports change the world? Doubtful. But are they providing any value to my life? Definitely. By sharing the reports with everyone on my blog, am I increasing their overall value? Absolutely.

Sharing instantly adds value to any activity.

Software developer? Make your projects open-source and collaborate with others.

Triathlete? Become a fitness coach or write about the training.

Scuba diver? Use the perspective you gain from being immersed in a new world to inspire others.

Gamer? Uh... well maybe some things really are just for fun.

Play is an exercise for life

Just as it's important to exercise our bodies, it's also important to exercise our life. Fun and play is exercise for life. Your hobbies and interests, no matter how unrelated to your work or seemingly useless to the rest of the world, are important; they're important for your well-being.

Everything needs exercise: Our bodies need it to stay healthy, the economy needs it to grow, our skills need it to stay sharp, even babies need it to develop their voice.

Life is no different. If you don't exercise life regularly, you will become rusty and burned out. If you're burned out and unhappy, you won't be fully capable of helping others no matter how much you want to.

As long as we remember what's important and we don't lose focus, our hobbies will enrich our lives and make us more capable human beings. If we're not just thinking about ourselves and we balance pleasure with responsibility, we will be learning and increasing our overall potential to help others.

But moderation and balance are key. Too much exercise is just as harmful as too little.

If watching TV helps you relax, sitting on the couch all day isn't going to be beneficial to anyone, including yourself. If you enjoy playing a computer game, wasting hours every day in a virtual world isn't going to help you make a difference in the lives of others.

Play, but play responsible. Have fun, but balance it with responsibility.

Now go have fun

Do something fun this weekend and think about how you're exercising life. Think about how the activity is helping make you a better person and how it's preparing you for the challenges in the week ahead.

While you're at it, ask yourself how you could make that activity even more valuable by sharing it with someone else.

***

I will be flying back to India on Sunday, so this will most likely be my last blog post from Nepal (at least for this year). The past two months have been full of incredible, spontaneous, and unexpected events that have led to more inner growth than I could have possibly imagined.

I gave my first public speech to a crowd of school children, trekked up into the Himalayan mountains more than 2000m (6,000ft), and wrote and published my first ebook. You might call some of it hard work, but it was fun!

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28 Comments

  1. “But moderation and balance are key.”

    Absolutely. A complete unwind every now and then helps you recuperate and be able to perform at your best. I’ve learned the hard way that I need to take breaks and let myself have regular fun in order to do good work.

    Also, I used to think computer games were of no benefit to anyone, just a waste of time, but this got me thinking a little differently: http://bit.ly/9COYbt

    Congrats on two kick-ass months, Raam. It’s been a fun ride just reading about your adventures.

    • Thanks Niall! I’ll have to watch that video as soon as I get on an Internet connection that’s faster than dial-up!

      I know there are lots of benefits to gaming, including things like improved hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, etc., but I was referring more to the people who spend several hours a day playing games when they could be doing something more useful with their time. I know from firsthand experience how addictive games can be and how quickly time can be lost! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing them, just not in excess.

  2. Great post, Raam!

    It’s a question I have been thinking about a lot as well: When there is so much I could do to help others, do I have a right to do things that are “just for me”?

    I agree with you that sharing the fun with others and using it responsibly to make yourself more ready for the important work are important answers to the question.

    I have also started to think that as long as you are responsible about what you do in general, from time to time it’s good to just throw yourself into activities that excite you. You don’t know what will come out of them at the beginning, but along the way, because of your willingness to do important work, you might be able to turn those things into something great.

    • Excellent point, Jarkko!

      I think a perfect example of “throwing myself out there and seeing what happens” is the six month journey that I will be wrapping up in a few weeks. When I began this journey, there wasn’t really a “greater purpose” besides wanting to learn more about myself and fulfill a life-long dream of world travel. But I never stopped looking for and being open to ways that I could help others and work towards a greater purpose.

      Because I was open to those things, the poverty and suffering that I witnessed had a profound affect on my life and it put me on the path I’m currently on. None of that would’ve been possible if I prevented myself from going on this journey because “just seeing what will happen” wasn’t enough.

      I’ve discovered that it’s often the case that we cannot fully see or understand the bigger picture until we’ve walked far enough through the forest and out the other side. Letting go every once in awhile — and more importantly following our intuition when it’s pulling at us — is vital to making great leaps of progress.

  3. This is probably why so many fund-raisers are centered around athletic events, for people to have fun and do some good at the same time.

    Maybe your next Nepali adventure will be organizing a snowboarding or skydiving extravaganza with the proceeds going to a kids’ group!

    • You read my mind, Meg! I’ve been mulling over an idea for a few weeks now that will involve an epic hiking trip to raise money for building schools, libraries, and sports centers for children in remote parts of Nepal! πŸ™‚

      • That hiking trip sounds pretty interesting, Raam. Let us know the details when/if it happens.

        I think the sporting events are great ways for people to get toegether for a cause – it fires up the competitve streak in people and yet allows for a common cause, too. Everyone wants to be part of a larger community and feel the sense of giving to others.

        Congrats on how far you’ve come in so short a time, Raam. This traveling has certainly enriched your life (and others) in so many ways.

        I would not be feel guilty about enjoying your hobbies or trying new things in your life. Would God really want you to isolate yourself and be miserable every day? I think that it behooves you to try many new things and share that experience with others (many of who would never have the opportunity) so that they can live vicariously through you. Besides, martyrs are no fun πŸ™‚

        • Thank you, Karen!

          I think your point about sharing experiences with others who may not have the opportunity to experience them says a lot! It’s almost like reversing the problem I was stating and saying that I am obliged to experience and share as much as I’m capable of! I like looking at it that way. πŸ˜€

  4. I have been thinking about this in a similar vein– travel and acquisitiveness. I feel so selfish when it comes to travel because it’s mostly about me having fun, doing something for pleasure. But we need to have things that we enjoy even if they don’t contribute to the greater good. I love your idea of sharing it– a great way to make connections and nurture your hobbies.
    Being aware is such an important basis for a fruitful life– you are aware of what is important to you and what your goals are, and that now constantly informs what you are doing. Have fun and enjoy yourself knowing that you are leading a balanced life with awareness. πŸ™‚

    • I think that’s one of the beautiful things about blogging — it’s the most simple way of sharing our experiences, whatever they may be, with others and that opens the door to reach so many people, people who may be affected in a huge way by what we’re sharing.

      I think as long as we’re living life with an open mind and an open heart, we cannot go wrong!

      Thank you for the comment, Jenna! Safe travels!

      • I fully agree with what you said about blogging. It can be a beautiful expression that allows us to share our experiences with family/friends who are far away and new friends we meet online. I do it much more for the sharing aspect than anything else.

        • And I think that’s one of the biggest reasons blogging has grown so quickly. With so many people expressing themselves and sharing their experiences, thoughts, ideas, and opinions, we begin to see beauty humanity has to offer.

          Nathan Hangen posted this comment on Twitter today: “Sometimes I wonder, as I peruse the blogosphere….is there ever a post that isn’t ‘great!’ – r standards low or is everyone fantastic?”

          My response was that everyone is fantastic! The blogosphere just brings that incredible wealth of intelligence and beauty to the forefront! πŸ™‚

  5. As adults our fun muscles become flabby, life becomes significant and heavy. Ugh, the weight of it. Exercising life as you suggest Raam strengthens that muscle and that makes us more capable, more willing to contribute and make the difference in a bigger way.

    Reminds me of when I saw the Dalai Lama in Vancouver a few years ago. He and Desmond Tutu were sitting in armchairs on stage, but to my eyes they were a couple of kids enjoying life and each other.

    • Flabby fun muscles… yuck! I think we can all do a lot to exercise and tone up our fun muscles! There’s too much at stake to let time atrophy our life and ruin our potential for happiness. When we remove our inhibitions, we experience life for what it really is!

      Thank you, Sandi!

  6. Raam, you are wrapping up a journey of a lifetime, my dear friend, and I hope you are and stay in good health and spirits as you return home (and then find your real home wherever that may be) and continue to be yourself which is a gift to everyone around you.
    Since I started cycling, I have promoted our little studio which has grown and then participated in their Live Strong donation by cycling – the proceeds of which all go to Lance Armstrong’s Cancer Foundation and I love combining my health habits with ways it can encourage others. Oh and I write about it so that others will think about their fitness. Speaking of which, I could probably now kick your butt on a bike ride, FYI :)!!

    • Thank you, Farnoosh! I will definitely stay in good spirits wherever I go, even if they’re mixed with a little doubt here and there!

      I bet you’re right about kicking my butt cycling… I say let’s find out! πŸ˜€ I’m thinking of training for a triathlon, so I need the challenge!

  7. Hi Raam,

    I’m glad you raised this question! The line that resonates strongly for me is about how “moderation and balance” are the key.

    Is it OK if I play devil’s advocate? I think what you are say is true to a certain degree. All the great spiritual masters I’ve had the good fortune to meet, know how to relax and hang out. They know how to take care of themselves in a basic way. The word “guilt” is not a big part of their vocabulary. I totally agree that it’s incredibly important not to burn yourself out.

    At the same time, I think we can easily go overboard and fool ourselves into thinking we have to do all this “good” stuff for ourselves. Our society is so fixated on the body.

    The spiritual masters I’ve met remind us again and again that our time is limited and thus very precious and not to be wasted. They give with their whole heart and the give without limits. Of course, they still take care of themselves; they are not stupid.

    As always, we need to be discerning in our choices and moderation is the key. Guilt doesn’t help anyone!

    • Hi Sandra,

      An interesting thought I had while reading your comment was that maybe we seek excess physical pleasure because our bodies are not in sync with nature… when we neglect our physical (and mental) health, seeking pleasure becomes more desirable as a means for escaping the pain and discomfort that we’re feeling.

      The catch to this is that the pleasures we seek may be further harming our health (bad food, negative thinking, etc.) making us even more inclined to seek pleasures! The only way to break the vicious cycle is to clear our minds and focus on what matters.

      I’ve noticed this trend with my own health… when I’m exercising regularly and eating very healthy, I feel great and very motivated to continue eating healthy and exercising. But as soon as something happens to change my routine (I move to a new location, start a big project, or do anything else that disrupts my routine), keeping up with the exercise and eating healthy becomes a challenge and doing the opposite just becomes easier. I get caught in a downward spiral and climbing back out is always a challenge — it seems that it’s only when I get tired of feeling guilty for being unhealthy that I build up the motivation to change!

  8. Great post Raam! I am totally with you.

    I believe that the most important thing you can do first is develop yourself. If you dont develop yourself, the value you can give back in the future will be much less. Think about Bill Gates or Warren Buffet – the biggest philanthropists to ever exist. How much would they have helped the world if they worked in a soup kitchen all their lives (not that there is anything wrong with that).

    If pursuing a hobby will help you relax and keep you on track for self development, so you can give back tomorrow or someday, I think its beneficial in the end. I do like your idea on sharing your experience, but you also have to look at efficient use of time. If I spent all my time writing about stuff instead of doing stuff, I dont think I would be very happy or productive in the parts of my life I believe really matter… each to their own tho.

    • Thanks, Vinay!

      On the topic of spending time sharing: I think it’s important to remember that one of the final steps in mastering something is being capable of teaching the subject matter to others. If we want to know what we’re already good at, we only need ask what we’re already capable of teaching. I think blogging provides the perfect medium for teaching things, or at least practicing the role of a teacher. One of the easiest ways to “practice” the role of teacher is to simply share our journey of learning something with others.

      Everyone as the medium that they communicates best with. For some people it’s writing (blogging). For others, it’s speaking (podcasts). And for some, it’s video (vblogging). If writing feels time consuming and unproductive, you might want to give one of those other mediums a shot! πŸ™‚

  9. Hi Raam,
    I love hiking. It relaxes. It inspires me. It is a time to nourish friendships. It’s fun.
    It has a Side Effect – Exercise.

    By the way, on the subject of making a big difference I just wrote an article on how one person can impact the life of millions (you can relate to that I am sure). The article was inspired by an old and truly inspring film.

    The link is here
    http://thewondertechnique.com/pay-it-forward-and-touch-the-lives-of-four-million-people/

    All the best,
    David

    • Hey David,

      Yes, hiking is incredible, isn’t it? πŸ™‚

      Thank you for the link to your post. I haven’t seen Pay it Forward but I love the concept! Like you, I’m always ready to help someone push their car if it looks like they need a hand!

  10. I laughed out loud on the “gamers” just being for fun…

    Solid perspective brother as it is ever so important to find that balance which keeps us centered and focused towards being the best versions of ourselves.

    The ole “work hard, play harder” is truly a life perspective all should adopt to harness that zest and zeal of living…

    Cheers brother,

    Patrick

  11. Gaming can used as a productive activity too! There are many interactive video games that teach ethics, problem solving skills, and still allow room for social interaction!

    Aside from that, this post really made me take a couple of minutes to think about my own life. I’m so inspired by your frugal report – I’m exactly the opposite, I’ve never thought much about my daily expenses as long as I don’t go over my monthly allowance..and I haven’t reconsidered the way I spend my money and time for a very long time.

    Raam, question for you. How do I ensure that my daily activities also have some meaning and purpose in them? How do you give back to the community everyday? I like to think that I’m doing that with my blog, because I’m doing ( well,..trying…) to do one thing that scares me everyday and by doing that I hope I”m inspiring people.

    But I feel it’s almost superficial..how does confronting my own fears help my community at a whole? A general way to look at this dilemma of mine would be : how would I carry out your advice (Exercise life fun and share it with someone else) everyday?

    Also, I would LOVE to help out with your next fundraising trip/efforts for the schools & children in Nepal!!!! Please let me know if you want/need help ! I can dance to raise money or knock on every door here in Boulder CO !

    • I totally agree that gaming can be extremely useful. In fact, just yesterday I began randomly recalling in great detail some of the maps I used to play on FPS games. I played these maps so many times that their layout is as familiar to me as the home I grew up in! That’s when I remembered reading about the memory palace system, or method of loci, used for enhancing our memory. This system uses the layout of a room or place that’s familiar to us to help us remember things. I realized that these huge game maps stored in my head could all be used as big memory storage devices!

      About your question: I’ve actually wondered the same thing. I think as long as we approach each day with an open mind, an open heart, compassion, and a willingness to help, we will be giving back to the community no matter what we’re doing.

      Sharing on a blog I think is one of the best ways to give back. I know it might feel superficial, but by talking about your fears and explaining how you face them, you’re inspiring others to do the same. You’re letting others see that it’s perfectly OK to be afraid of something even it seems trivial. Remember, this entire planet is a community and the Internet brings that community closer together. By sharing and connecting on the Internet, you’re contributing to the biggest community of all!

      Thank you so much for your enthusiasm to help the children in Nepal! I will definitely keep you in the loop! πŸ™‚

  12. “Gamer? Uh… well maybe some things really are just for fun.”

    Yeah… to some extent however…. Gamers help one another while the game is fun… if it wasn’t for RtCW; we’ve never have met and spent 2 weeks in Viet Nam together, nor would I have an excellent hosting for my websites. πŸ˜€

    Without RtCW: friendships with Raam, David L, Bob, Joe, Tom, Steve, Cole, etc…. would never have happened.

    Bob wouldn’t have drank his snake wine or eaten the fish out of the bottle of fish sauce πŸ˜†

    David L would not have met up with me in South Bend and we’ve not have walked all over town watching his girlfriend run a marathon, nor would we have gotten lost finding the finish line.

    Joey and I wouldn’t be playing phone tag nor would he have ever ate shrimp chips. His mother would not have teared up when she opened a package containing a gift from a stranger (me).

    Countless others would have less laughing moments without life of djt………. stories.

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