You know what’s a lot harder than it seems like it should be? Actually feeling alive. And what I mean by that is that we are all constantly doing, or, at least, we’re constantly scrolling.
But we’re not necessarily living. You know, we keep ourselves busy to the point of exhaustion, but we’re also languishing. We feel a little bid dead inside.
And I think we know that, on some level. I think that’s part of the reason we keep ourselves so busy and distracted to begin with.
But we don’t know what to do about it. So I’m here to tell you I figured out what to do about it. We need to have more fun.
So you might think that you’re already having plenty of fun, and that’s because in our everyday speech, we often use the word “fun” to describe anything we do with our leisure time, even if it’s not actually enjoyable, and, in fact, a waste of time. So for example, we scroll through social media “for fun,” even though doing so often makes us feel bad about, like, kind of everything. Or we’ll say, “That was so fun.
We should do that again soon” in response to things that weren’t that fun and that we don’t want to do again, ever. But it’s not really our fault that we’re a little bit sloppy about how we use the word “fun,” because even the dictionary doesn’t get it quite right.
It says that fun is amusement or enjoyment, or lighthearted pleasure. It’s something for the kids to have play areas.
It makes it sound like it’s frivolous and optional. But if you think back on your own memories that stand out to you as having truly been fun, and I really encourage you to do this.
The memories that you would describe as, and forgive me for scientific terminology, “so fun”, you’re going to notice there’s something much deeper going on. I’ve collected thousands of these stories from people all around the world, and I can tell you it’s amazing, because when people recount the memories in which they had the most fun, they tell you about some of the most joyful and treasured memories of their lives.
So in reality, fun is not just lighthearted pleasure. It’s not just for kids, and it is definitely not frivolous. Instead, fun is the secret to feeling alive. So today, I want to propose to you a new, more precise definition of what fun is.
I want to reveal some of the ways in which it is astonishingly good for us, and I want to give you all some suggestions for things you can do starting right now to experience its power for yourself.
So the first thing we need to start with is the fact that fun is a feeling, and it’s not an activity. And that’s important, because a lot of times, when I ask people what’s fun, they’ll respond with a list of activities that they enjoy. You know, they’ll say, “Dancing is fun,” or “Skiing is fun,” or, I don’t know, “Pickleball is fun.” Everyone seems to think that Pickleball is fun.
And sure, Pickleball can be fun, but we’ve all had experiences where something’s off, and an activity that seems like it would be fun doesn’t end up feeling fun. And then on the flip side, we’ve had experiences where something that doesn’t seem like it’ll be fun at all ends up feeling ridiculously fun. There’s an element of serendipity.
But when people do have fun, when they experience this feeling, it’s actually very easy to recognize, because people who are having fun look like they’re being illuminated from within.
So, for example, here is me and my husband having fun together. Here are some presidents having fun together. Here’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama having fun together. Actually, those two seemed like they were very often, even constantly, Having fun together.
And as you can see in these photographs, true fun produces this visceral sense of lightness and joy. It’s radiant. In fact, when I asked my daughter, when she was about five years old, what color fun would be, she said “sunshine.”
So what is this sunshine? You know? What is this feeling that we call “fun”? When people tell their stories about fun, it’s really interesting, because the details are all different, and often quite mundane, but the energy running through them is the same.
There were three factors that are consistently present, to the point that we believe they constitute a new definition, one that is a lot more accurate than what’s in the dictionary. And those three factors are playfulness, connection and flow.
So by playfulness, it does not mean you have to play games, or, God forbid, make believe. We just mean having a lighthearted attitude of doing things for the sake of doing them and not caring too much about the outcome. Letting go of perfectionism. When we have fun, our guard is down, and we’re not taking ourselves too seriously.
Connection refers to the feeling of having a special, shared experience. And We do think it’s possible, in some circumstances, to have fun alone, and for this feeling of connection to be with yourself or the surroundings, or the activity.
But in the majority of stories that people tell me about their peak fun memories, another person is involved. And that’s true even for introverts.
And then the flow is the state where we are so engaged and focused on whatever we’re doing that we can even lose track of time. You can think about an athlete in the middle of a game, or a musician playing a piece of music.
It’s when we’re in the zone. It’s possible to be in the flow and not have fun, like if you’re arguing, but you cannot have fun if you’re not in the flow.
So playfulness, connection and flow all feel great on their own. But when we experience all three at once, something magical happens. We have fun. And that doesn’t just feel good, it is good for us. In fact, the fun does so many amazingly good things for us that I personally believe that fun is not just the result of human thriving, it’s a cause.
So, for example, fun is energizing. When people tell me their stories about fun, they glow. It is like a fire has been lit inside of them, and the energy and the warmth that they give off is contagious. You know, so much of life drains us, but fun fills us up. Fun also makes us present. A lot of us put a lot of work into trying to be more present, we do yoga classes, we meditate, and that is all great, but the fact that fun is a flow state means that when we are having fun, we simply are present.
There’s no other way for it to happen. Fun also unites us. We live in a really polarized world, and as we all know, there’s a lot of very serious problems.
But when we have fun with people, we don’t see them as different political parties, or nationalities or religions. We connect with them as human beings, and it’s worth noting that that is the first step in being able to work together to solve those problems. Fun also makes us healthier.
Being lonely and stressed out, as many of us have been for the past two years, causes hormonal changes in our bodies that increase our risk for disease. But when we have fun, we’re relaxed and we’re more socially connected, both of which have the opposite effect. So, kind of blows my mind every time I think about it this way, but having fun is a health intervention.
And then, lastly, fun is joyful. You know, we all so desperately want to be happy. We read books about happiness, we download apps about happiness, but when we are in a moment of having fun, we are happy. So it makes me think that, perhaps, the secret to long-term happiness is just to have more everyday moments of fun.
So how do we do that? How do we have more fun? Well, to start with, do not take the suggestions you’ll find in magazine articles about how to have more fun. I looked at some of these myself, and I found suggestions that include and I’m not making these up, “roast a turkey.” “Put together an altar to loved ones who have passed.” “Watch a documentary about climate change.” And my personal favorite, “Adorn your table with gourds.” Those are not good suggestions.
Instead, the most effective thing you can do to have more fun is to focus on its ingredients, by which I mean, do everything you can to fill your life with more moments of playfulness, connection and flow. So here are some ideas for how to do so. To start with, reduce distractions in order to increase the flow.
Anything that distracts you is going to kick you out of flow and prevent you from having fun. And what’s the number one source of distraction for most of us, these days? Oh, thank you.
It was rhetorical, but yes, your phones. We have strong feelings about this, but I can guarantee you that you are not going to have fun if you’re constantly on your phone. So today, I want to challenge you to keep your phone out of your hand as much as possible, so you can take me up on my second suggestion, which is to increase connection by interacting more with other human beings in real life.
Now, I know that one of the main reasons we’re constantly on our phones is specifically to avoid having to spend time and interact with other human beings in real life. So I want to assure you that it is worth it, and it is not as hard as it might seem. So here’s how you do it.
You start by making eye contact with someone. Like, look them in the eye, don’t look in the middle of their forehead, where the camera would be on a Zoom call. And you say “Hello.” And if that goes well, you can introduce yourself.
And if that goes well, maybe you can ask them a question, something that’s thought-provoking, but not overly personal or threatening, like “What’s something that fascinates you?” Or “What’s one thing that delighted you today?” And you might be amazed by how good just one little moment of connection can make you feel. And if you do find someone to connect with, maybe ask them to join you in trying my third suggestion, which is to increase playfulness by finding opportunities to rebel.
Now I am not talking about James Dean-level of rebellion. I’m talking about playful deviance. I’m talking about finding ways to break the rules of responsible adulthood, and giving yourself permission to get a kick out of your own life.
One person told me that some of the most fun she’d had in recent memory, happened on a Friday morning, when she and some of her friends ditched their work and their childcare responsibilities, tucked flasks into their purses and snuck out to a 10:30am showing of the movie “Bad Moms.”
So lastly, here’s one more thing that you can do today to start having more fun. I am just kidding. Prioritize it. That might sound totally obvious, but one of the main reasons we’re not having enough fun is that we’re not making it a priority. Our fun is always at the bottom of the list, and it can’t speak up for itself.
So I’m not suggesting that you take out your calendar and make an entry that says: “From 4 to 6pm on Saturday, I shall have fun.” That is a guaranteed way to not have fun. But if you know you consistently have fun when you spend time with a particular person, make a point to spend time with that person.
If you know there’s an activity that really does often generate a playful connected flow for you, carve out time for it in your schedule. Treat fun as if it is important. Because it is.
I’ve been doing this myself for a couple of years now, and it’s amazing to see how many areas of my life fun have touched. I’m more creative and more productive, I’m more resilient. I laugh more.
Making sure that I’m having enough fun has made me a better partner, a better parent and a better friend. And it has convinced me of something that I very much hope I can convince you of as well, which is like Fun is sunshine. It’s a distillation of life’s energy. And the more often we experience it, the more we will feel like we’re actually alive.
Thank you for reading.
Can people have too much fun and get caught up in it, and if so, what are the consequences?
What are some ways people can make their work more fun?
What are some examples of fun activities that can be incorporated into a person’s day-to-day life?
How does having fun contribute to a healthier life?