In her new book The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, science writer Catherine Price asks readers a simple question: When did you last lose yourself in the sheer enjoyment of doing something totally frivolous, and maybe a little bit crazy, for the sole purpose of making yourself feel happy and truly alive? For most of us, it’s a far more difficult question to answer than we might have imagined.
It was that realization that prompted the award-winning journalist to explore why fun – a pursuit that is so good for our mental and physical wellbeing – has all but disappeared from our lives. Technology is partly to blame, says Price, whose previous book was How to Break Up With Your Phone. She argues that instead of doing things that bring us joy, we sit in rooms parallel scrolling, hypnotized by a small rectangular object that is pulling our internal compasses seriously off track.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Price says making time for fun – things that make us smile, forget our troubles and feel childlike again – allows us to flourish, rather than just function. It gives us energy, makes us more resourceful, lowers our stress levels and helps us feel more connected to others. “And if you have a few belly laughs while you’re doing it, even better,” she says. “They, too, are good for the soul.”
What do we misunderstand about fun?
Like many people, I used to think of fun as an afterthought, as something that was a luxury, even frivolous. Like many adults, I’d fallen into the habit of using productivity and money to decide whether something was worth doing. In fact, we often claim not to have time for fun even though we find hours in a day to binge-watch TV, doom-scroll the news or post countless photos to social media. When we are kids, fun comes naturally. As adults, we have responsibilities, including jobs to do and bills to pay, but we rarely think about what we need in our lives to have the resilience and energy in order to do those things. Fun reinvigorates us and fills up our tank. It lights us up inside, which makes us happier and healthier.
Why are we so out of practice when it comes to having fun?
Technology is a big part of it. There are only 24 hours in a day, and we sleep for at least a quarter of them. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the average adult was spending upward of four hours a day on their phones, and for many of us, the number is now even higher. Four hours a day adds up to nearly 60 full days a year. It’s a quarter of our waking lives. And those are just our phones. Add in our tablets and televisions, our computers and video game consoles and I think it’s safe to say many people are now spending most of their waking lives staring at screen. Think about it: How much time each day, if you’re being honest with yourself, do you actually spend on your hobbies or with your partner, family or friends, in person? We just don’t prioritize making fun a part of our lives.
What was the catalyst that led you to write The Power of Fun?
My husband and I were taking a break from technology. He was out one day, my daughter was napping and I honestly couldn’t think of anything to do. I had no idea how I wanted to spend my free time and it freaked me out a bit. I realized I was languishing. I thought about what I used to really enjoy doing, and music was the first thing that came to mind. So I signed up for guitar lessons. I loved them. I became energized and buoyant – words that describe fun to me. I realized I wanted to be awake for my life and it led me to study, and appreciate the importance of, fun.
You make a distinction between true fun and fake fun, what is the difference?
True fun is a magical confluence of playfulness, connection and flow [the act of being fully present]. When we are truly having fun, we are engaged, free from self-criticism and judgment. It is the thrill of losing ourselves in what we’re doing and not caring about the outcome. Fake fun can be hard to identify because it’s so well-camouflaged. It’s engineered to release some of the same chemicals that are present in our bodies and brain when we’re truly having fun. But in reality, it’s a mirage of fun that’s been created by people and businesses whose incentives, value and goals are very different from our own. Much like junk food, fake fun gives us a quick fix of pleasure but ultimately doesn’t make us feel good.
How do we put more fun back into our lives?
You have to have a philosophical conversation with yourself about what is actually important to you, keeping in mind that your time on Earth is finite. Find activities that bring you joy, whether that is taking a walk in the rain, learning to swing dance, or in my case, taking guitar lessons and rediscovering my love of music. I came up with a formula for fun called SPARK, which means make space, pursue passions, attract fun, rebel and keep at it. They are activities that more often than not, put a twinkle in your eye, and let you experience your life in a more positive and fulfilling way.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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