In early March, comedian and television writer Jan Caruana tweeted: “Have I forgotten how to have fun?”
Before the pandemic, Caruana and her boyfriend “used to go to dinner, we used to go to movies. It’s like I don’t remember how to have fun,” she said recently from her Toronto home. “We’ve run out of pandemic-approved things that we can do and because we’re not working from home, I’m very conscious of not bringing anything to my workplace.”
Part of the problem, she says, is her new schedule. Earlier in the pandemic she had nothing but time; now, she has too little. “I’ve gone from a place of having almost nothing to do in a day to working 16 hours and then just wanting to go to sleep. My time to have fun has gotten so small,” she says.
Given current events, fun may seem like a low-priority pursuit, but there are mental, physical and emotional benefits to making time for delight.
“Having fun has major positive effects on the brain,” says Dr. Monica Vermani, a clinical psychologist in Toronto. “It increases norepinephrine, the hormone responsible for memory and learning functions, dopamine, our ‘feel-good’ hormone, and our pleasure hormone, oxytocin.”
Fun that involves physical activity is beneficial because it tires the body, which helps us sleep better, and all types of fun lift the mood. “Positive, fun experiences help us connect to our authentic selves and our strengths – including our ability to cope with whatever shows up in life,” Vermani says.
So, when you’ve forgotten how to have fun, as Caruana has, how do you fix that?
To put the lessons in her recent book, The Power of Fun, into practice, science writer Catherine Price hosted a #Funtervention in February (you can still access it at howtohavefun.com). The intention was to do one fun thing every day, big or small. Five thousand people took part from around the world.
During the month, Price organized live chats with experts in psychology, learning and rest. One of them, Yale professor Laurie Santos, noted “a fun killer is self-judgement,” adding “practicing self compassion in your daily life can be very helpful to create the space for fun.”
Vermani agrees. “I think it is important for us right now – at this point in time when the world seems to be reopening and returning to a more normal state – to give ourselves a pat on the back. We survived a challenging time,” she says. “Just as it took time for us to learn how to do what we had to do during the pandemic, it’s going to take time to recover.”
Another tip is to be open to how you define fun. “The definition of fun is pretty vague,” says Allyson Harrison, an associate processor in the department of psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston. “There are lots of synonyms for fun. There’s pleasure, enjoyment, amusement, diversion, but also gratification, leisure, relaxation, relief, respite, rest.” Though Price points out that true fun occurs “when you experience playful, connected flow” and are present in the moment.
Felisia Canedo, a communications professional in Montreal, rediscovered how to have fun through a new passion – K-pop. “Last year through Instagram, I ended up finding this community that introduced me to this whole new world. I ended up making so many new friends, the most I’ve probably made since my school days. And it completely changed my perception of fun,” she says.
Importantly, it gave her things to look forward to, dance classes, travelling for concerts, collecting band merch – things she says that “are now day-to-day sources of joy.”
“Having something like that to look forward to can give people not only joy in the moment, but joy of anticipation,” Harrison says. Price says that fun should be had every day and recommends structuring your life and leisure time so that there’s always something on the calendar to look forward to.
“But we’re not talking mind-blowing experiences of fun. That would be impossible. I’m talking about little moments of playful, connected flow – things as small as sharing a laugh with a co-worker would count,” she says.
If a daily routine seems daunting, think of it like exercise – consistency is key. “It may take a little time and effort. We’re all a little rusty in the socializing and fun department right now,” Vermani says. “Even when you are not feeling motivated, it is important to push and encourage yourself to engage in activities you know have made you feel happy, and brought you joy, connection.”
And if all else fails, she advises to “engage in healthy behaviours even when you don’t feel like it.” Because often fake it till you make it works.
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