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Work hard, play hard. Many of us know that motto. The idea: If we work hard for awhile when it’s time to let loose, have as much fun as possible.

Many of us see work simply as a way to have time for fun – to have money we can exchange for enjoyment and pleasure later. 

Our society sometimes seems fun-centered, and that attitude affects people’s lives. Personal pleasure, comfort, riches, and ease naturally become high priorities when we see individual desire as a main priority. This focus on fun feels baked into capitalist culture, which thrives on the assumption that people need to buy new and improved stuff to feel fulfilled, which reflects the popularization of the belief that having fun represents the main purpose of life. 

The Baha’i writings say:

All around us today we see how man surrounds himself with every modern convenience and luxury, and denies nothing to the physical and material side of his nature. But, take heed, lest in thinking too earnestly of the things of the body you forget the things of the soul: for material advantages do not elevate the spirit of a man. Perfection in worldly things is a joy to the body of a man but in no wise does it glorify his soul. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks.

Whenever an attitude like this one becomes part of a culture, it shapes many components of the lives of those of us immersed in that culture. As a young person in a huge city, I’ve seen how this fun-centered culture has serious effects on dating and searching for a partner. Many people date just to pass the time and have fun with a nice companion. I am in no position to judge the different reasons why people date, but I can speak about the difficulties a person might have in this fun-centric environment when their own dating goals involve finding someone who also wants to build a lasting home and family. 

Society socializes some men to be less focused on family and home life, so as a woman dating men, it seems that the odds are against me. It’s very likely that I’ll find myself on a date with someone who doesn’t have the aim of building a lasting relationship. 

Dating in a fun-centric society means that tons of people look for someone to vacation with, and less of us look for someone who can help deepen our understanding of the world. Plenty of people seek a shopping partner or someone to build a beautiful house with, but less focus on building a home that nourishes community. Early stages of a date often involve asking each other what our “love language” is, while losing sight of the other person’s character. 

It isn’t that these forms of bonding aren’t important. I think it’s deeply important that you enjoy being with people, especially if they might be someone you could commit to. The issue: we often don’t go deep enough. We forget to keep our eyes open for the most important forms of compatibility and get caught up on just finding someone fun to be around, so relationships don’t always propel us towards true growth. In that process, we can miss out on opportunities the develop our higher selves. 

The Baha’i writings frame this life’s purpose within the larger context of a much longer spiritual existence – one that lasts eternally. Our focus here, then, should not only focus on being joyful, but to become joyful with purpose:

… in this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so, likewise, the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world. What is he in need of in the Kingdom which transcends the life and limitation of this mortal sphere? That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore, it is necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that eternal life ready for him. That divine world is manifestly a world of lights; therefore, man has need of illumination here. That is a world of love; the love of God is essential. It is a world of perfections; virtues, or perfections, must be acquired. That world is vivified by the breaths of the Holy Spirit; in this world we must seek them. That is the Kingdom of everlasting life; it must be attained during vanishing existence. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace.

Many times the aims of having fun can coincide with nourishing our higher nature, but other times the fun we seek might condone selfishness, greed, wasting energy and time, or excluding others. If we focus on finding joy while also fulfilling a higher purpose that serves more than ourselves, our relationships can flourish into sources for happiness and peace. 

Rather than creating insular relationships, transactional partnerships or short-lived stories that end in heartbreak, we can learn to reframe the purpose of our romantic lives. Once we see dating as more than just entertainment and comfort, the potential for true love is limitless.

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