Feeling positive and happy has been difficult during the past few years. What’s happening in the world, not to mention our lives, can be a lot to process, make sense of, and adapt to—a perfect storm conspiring to weigh down our spirits.
However, Catherine Price, a science journalist and TED Talk speaker, believes she has figured out a way we can feel more buoyant and optimistic: We need to have more true fun.
Easy to say, right? But Price, author of “The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again,” points out that we can have empathy and compassion for what’s happening in the world and our lives, while also welcoming play, laughter, and joy into our days.
And we need it. “Many people radically underestimate how important fun is to their resilience, happiness, and mental and physical health,” she said in her Ted Talk.
Studies back her up. Research shows that engaging in activities we enjoy provides numerous health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, reducing stress hormones, and alleviating depression.
After more than five years of research into what makes people feel engaged and alive, Price has defined what she calls true fun: experiences that create a visceral sense of lightness and joy, during which you look like you’re “illuminated from within.” She also came up with three defining characteristics of true fun: connection, flow, and playfulness.
Connection is about having a shared experience, which research shows enhances and increases positive feelings. Yes, you can have fun by yourself, Price acknowledged. But most of the hundreds of fun memories people shared with her while researching her book involved another person.
Flow is when you’re super engaged and focused on what you’re doing. In fact, you might even lose track of time. It’s possible to be in a state of flow and not have fun, such as if you’re really engrossed in a work project. But Price believes you cannot have true fun if you’re not in a state of flow.
Playfulness is having a lighthearted attitude. It’s about letting go of perfectionism. We’re having fun, our guard is down, and we’re not taking ourselves too seriously, Price said.
Connection, flow, and playfulness all feel great on their own and have proven mental health benefits. “But when we experience all three at once, something magical happens. We have fun. We feel energized. And that doesn’t just feel good. It is good for us,” said Price in her TED Talk.
Try these three tips from Price to bring more true fun into your life.
1. Beware of “fake” fun
When you spend hours sitting on the couch watching shows or scrolling through social media, you are participating in what Price calls “fake” fun. These activities don’t inspire playfulness and are often done solo (so no connections). They also don’t tend to make you feel in the flow, because they’re typically not that engaging.
Conversely, think about experiences when you were laughing and having fun. What were you doing, and who were you with? Why do you think you were having such a great time? Make note of what you were doing.
Consider which of your activities might count as fake fun, and try to cut back on how much time you devote to them. You’ll be making more time for the truly fun activities you identified—the ones that bring you joy.
2. Seek small doses of fun
Fun doesn’t have to be a big production—think about creating more everyday small moments of fun. Not sure what to do? Maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, but you haven’t taken that first step. For Price, it was learning to play guitar.
You also can experience small moments of connection, playfulness, and flow in your daily life with simple acts, Price said. For example, go talk with a coworker instead of sending an email, or do something nice for a friend or relative. Take note of how you feel after and if your mood improved.
3. Schedule playdates
Price isn’t suggesting that you block out “have fun from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday” on your calendar. But if you know you love spending time with a particular person, make a point to spend time with them. If you know there’s an activity that often generates a playful, connected flow for you, carve out time for it. Price enjoys playing music with a group of friends, so it’s on her calendar.
Of course, fun is an emotional experience that can’t be forced. “It is possible, however, to make fun more likely to occur simply by prioritizing the people and activities that are the most likely to create it for you,” Price said.
A big reason we don’t have enough fun is that it is often at the bottom of our to-do list. But we should treat fun as if it were important. Because it is.