The world presents us with so many reasons to celebrate—so many moments when it is desirable to unapologetically revel in pampering. And if you treat yourself to the pleasures you deserve, you may find that you are more present and content as you work through life’s many demands. One of the great keys to healthy and mindful living is balance—work hard, but also play hard. For some, pure happiness is exercise and meditation. For others, it’s sleep or seductive food and drink. If you’re struggling to validate your own (moderate) gratifications, schedule a weekend of play that is followed by a week of diligent work.
For several cultures, Carnival, which precedes Lent, is the ultimate form of merriment. And artists have been depicting these pre-Lenten festivities for centuries. Belgian symbolist painter James Ensor, for example, is well known for his revelrous scenes of Carnival. In Ostend, Belgium, where Ensor lived, Carnival was not only a noisy carouse when tourists and locals bade farewell to meat and alcohol; it was a time when one was encouraged to become someone else—to partake in a fantasy world in which social convention was ignored and the Self was mutable and in flux. Ensor portrayed busy streets, teeming with costumed and masked individuals, whose actual identity is not readily apparent. And the artist not only painted such a festivity, he also helped facilitate it; his family sold masks and other curiosities to tourists in their bric-a-brac shop. By wearing a mask, revelers could skirt personal and professional obligations, and be free to enjoy self-gratification without guilt.
Now, none of this is to say that everyone will find joy in the push and pull between indulgence and abstinence. In fact, such extremism can prove unhealthy. Just because you might vow to begin, say, a whole-foods diet on Monday, doesn’t mean that you should polish off an entire cheesecake on Sunday. But it is interesting to look back in history and see that balance is, in fact, so central to human and cultural well-being that societies develop traditions, like Carnival, to enforce it. And too often we forgo pure unbridled fun because of the demands of work, motherhood, etc. So embrace your fun side, if only for a day, as you eschew the tedious.
- Play in your own “Carnival.” Embrace a part of yourself that is usually replaced by your responsible and concerned side. Inside each of us is a variety of selves—one we show to the world, one we show to our partner, one to our families, and one to no one but ourselves. For many, the identity that gets the most exercise is that which is responsible, capable, and giving, but which doesn’t take much time for the personal. While remaining true to all your selves, take your wild side for a spin.
- Look the part by wearing your playfulness on the outside. You don’t have to don a literal mask, but it’s always fun to masquerade. Comb through your closet or a local thrift shop for an outfit and accessories that appeal to you but which you would rarely wear in your “real” life. Think loud colors and styles—neons, pastels, big necklaces, sequins, etc.
- Play. Go to yoga, a pub, a dance hall, a karaoke bar, a book club, a movie—wherever nourishes you and provides you with respite. If alone time is what you crave, spend a night with yourself. If friends add to your glee, make this a group gala. And at the end of the night, promise that tomorrow you’ll gently unmask all sides of yourself, so that you may approach true balance on a daily basis.