The woes of the world are a’plenty. People are anxious, stressed-out, and burned-out. It seems that no matter what side of the political aisle you gravitate toward, there’s a new battle to be fought at the dawn of each day. Even innocent settings — school board meetings, comedy shows, the Magic Kingdom itself — are not immune from partisan vitriol.

Luckily for us, though, this is Derby Day, which means it’s the perfect time to do something about the very real but underreported disorder that’s been plaguing our society for a while now: we’ve forgotten how...

The woes of the world are a’plenty. People are anxious, stressed-out, and burned-out. It seems that no matter what side of the political aisle you gravitate toward, there’s a new battle to be fought at the dawn of each day. Even innocent settings — school board meetings, comedy shows, the Magic Kingdom itself — are not immune from partisan vitriol.

Luckily for us, though, this is Derby Day, which means it’s the perfect time to do something about the very real but underreported disorder that’s been plaguing our society for a while now: we’ve forgotten how to have fun. It’s a contagious disease that affects brain function and mood, and if left untreated, could result in everyone becoming a smug, humorless elitist (a prognosis worse than Covid).

I wrote an article earlier this week about NASCAR — of all organizations — forcing a driver to undergo sensitivity training because he tweeted a stereotype to tease a competitor. The driver, Denny Hamlin, posted the tweet blithely, declaring it to be “funny as sh*t” and fine because Hamlin and the other driver he was teasing “are friends.” Hamlin told everyone to “lighten up, have a laugh, and enjoy the day.”

SKREEEECH. Pump the brakes. No jokes allowed. “Take it back or else,” NASCAR told Hamlin. And he did.

If NASCAR leading the charge on politically correct punishment isn’t a bummer, I don’t know what is. But this is where we are as a nation. Don’t worry, though. As I’ll explain, it’s nothing some audacious millinery and giggle juice can’t cure.

Before we can go about regaining our sense of fun, we must diagnose how we lost it. I see the rise of social media as one way by which fun’s demise was accelerated, as the two advanced at relatively the same time. All of a sudden, people accustomed to doing their own thing in their small circle of like-minded neighbors had thrust upon them a fresh group of people with divergent views and lifestyles. Aw-shucks country boys having a few oat sodas with some buddies in their old man’s pasture in remote Montana had brought to their attention that Kim Kardashian sampled her sister’s breastmilk.

Worlds collided; society imploded.

As the ability to compete for likes and followers bred a whole new generation consumed with digital affirmation, the platform by which to judge and be judged has become exalted. So, too, has the bully pulpit, which has grown bigger and louder and more influential along the way (being a social media “influencer” is now an actual job). “Kids these days” are addicted to the instant gratification accompanied by posting a woke hashtag or vulnerable post that attracts approval, and they live in constant fear of missing out (“FOMO” is so common, it’s become an acronym).

Which brings us back to fun. “The platforms that are supposed to help young people connect with each other may actually be fueling a mental health crisis,” reports the Mirror. Mental health crises are the opposite of fun, and so, too, is social media (actually, most media, come to think of it). You see, to have fun, you must rid yourself of the cares of the world, and that includes what others think about you and what you think about yourself. With everyone being so self-conscious and taking themselves and others so seriously, you can’t, say, post a silly Family Guy clip without risking cancellation. Every time I turn around, some famous person is apologizing for speaking his or her mind. Drew Barrymore just had to issue a public apology for calling the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard court drama “a seven-layer dip of insanity” (which it is!). Censorship breeds a populace afraid of self-expression, a trend that is, in a word, un-fun.

So, first things first, to find fun again, don’t be a “like-fracker” — the term my friend applies to people who attend events simply to garner “likes” from fake follower bots on social media. (“Did it for the ‘gram” means to do things for the sake of Instagram-able pictures.) You must be engaged and present to have fun, and though I harp on social media a lot, its evils apply to all sorts of (mostly screen-related) addictive distractions. You can’t have fun if you’re engrossed in political headlines or obsessively checking your Bitcoin wallet, either.

Put the phone down. Stop tweeting. And for goodness’ sake, stop tweeting about Twitter. On Derby Day, you ought to be preoccupied with boosting Kentucky’s economy via Old Crow Whiskey and choosing favorite horses based on their glorious names, the likes of which could make even the most feminist hyphenator-of-last-names jealous. (My money’s on “Tawny Port” and “Summer Is Tomorrow” this year, for no other reason than my parents drink port every Sunday afternoon after Mass and it’s 46 degrees and raining in Pennsylvania currently.)

If you’ve gotten over caring so much about what other people think, you’ll be more willing to take a risk, to be silly, to laugh at yourself — the most satisfying form of fun! Costumes help with this. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously when an exotic aviary has alighted on your head, or when your get-up is a cross between zoot suit and barbershop quartet.

And finally, you have to want to have fun. It’s possible to go to a fun event and not have fun, and vice versa. Watch some Monty Python or the (original!) Pink Panther movies to get in the mood if you have to, and keep in mind these timeless words of wisdom from Hunter S. Thompson, king of the Kentucky Derby:

Sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whiskey and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind but falling in love and not getting arrested.