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Struggling to have fun in your life? You're not alone

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

Are we having fun yet? For some of us, fun is, well, not that fun, you know. What is it that Jack Torrance in "The Shining" said? All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And maybe we take fun too seriously, right? Like, search how to have fun on Google and almost 8 billion search results come up. And when did we stop knowing how to have fun? There's people out here paying over hundreds of dollars to hire party coaches and play coaches, paying to attend seminars and workshops on how to have fun in life. All this got us thinking, what's so hard about having fun? So we called up an expert on that. Catherine Price is the author of "The Power Of Fun: How To Feel Alive Again."

Hey, Catherine.

CATHERINE PRICE: So what I found is that the dictionary definition doesn't match the lived experience when people have fun. And so I decided - as a science journalist and writer, I decided, well, I'm going to try to come up with a better definition of what fun is. And the definition I came up with is that fun - or true fun, as I call it - is the combination of three states - playfulness, connection and flow. And when those three states are together, like the center of the Venn diagram, that is the feeling of fun.

Playfulness does not mean you have to play games. A lot of adults get very nervous when you use the word playfulness. So I like to say you don't have to necessarily be silly or childish. It's really just more about having a lighthearted attitude towards life and towards yourself. Connection refers to this feeling of having a special shared experience with other people. And then flow is active and engaged. And really importantly, flow requires you to be present. So if you're distracted at all, you can't be in flow, and you can't have fun. So long story short, I believe that the most accurate definition of fun is that it is a state of playful, connected flow.

LIMBONG: Interesting. So this issue of, you know, just telling people to have more fun - right? - I mentioned earlier some of the things people are doing to figure that out, right? You know, people are hiring a party coach or a fun coach. And on the one hand, I can see people like myself kind of rolling their eyes at this - you know? - just the idea of a party coach, right? But on the other hand, I don't know if it's something, like, akin to, like, a physical trainer - right? - someone to just help you along. And I don't know. I kind of want to get your take on why these jobs exist, and how have we commodified the business of fun?

PRICE: I mean, I think that the reason that there's a market for such things is that there's a genuine problem, which is that we don't - we're not feeling connection or playfulness or flow that often. Things feel very serious. We are very lonely and isolated. And we're very distracted. Everyone is so busy but yet unfulfilled. So I think that the market does speak to this genuine longing that we have for something more.

On the flip side, I don't think it's necessary to do that. I think that there are steps each of us can take and reflections we can, you know, engage in that can fill our lives with...

LIMBONG: Yeah.

PRICE: ...More everyday moments of fun without having to spend money, you know. And it is interesting. I mean, I literally have thousands of stories from people around the world about fun, and it's fascinating to notice how few of those involve people spending money or even going anywhere. I think those are two misperceptions we have about fun, that it costs money and that you have to be outside of your everyday life for it to occur.

And then that leads to another misconception we have, which is that fun is for the privileged. And that gets to the whole, like, how dare you think about fun right now? You know, that's only for people who are in this particular echelon of society. That's not true. I mean, it's really not true. Like, sure, if you have a ton of money, you might be able to facilitate fun in some ways other people might not, but you don't have to have that. I recently spoke to someone who told me about two hours of fun that he'd had where he was sitting on a park bench with his nephew just trying to catch leaves as they fell off a tree. Like, that does not cost money.

LIMBONG: Yeah, it doesn't. But I wonder then now how much social media plays into this - right? - because I know when I play with my nieces and nephew - right? - my sister then always, like, gets out her camera. Then we got to, like, pose in the leaves or whatever.

(LAUGHTER)

PRICE: Exactly, exactly.

LIMBONG: And she has to post on the 'gram. It's like, well, we were just having fun. And now we - shout-out to my sister. I hope you're listening. I love you, right? But what does social media do with our perception and our concept of having fun?

PRICE: I think it's really messed us up because one of the requirements for fun is that you be completely present and that your inner critic is silent. I guess that's two requirements. And if you're performing, then you're not fully present, and you probably have your inner critic on in some capacity, not even necessarily saying bad things, but just being like, oh, does my smile look right? Do I really look like I'm having fun? Like, is that the version of fun I want to, you know, project to the world? That kills fun. Fun is very fragile. It's like a sensitive flower. Like, it's going to run away, you know? So I think that social media really warps our vision of what fun is because you look at people's posed photos. And you think everyone's having more fun than you, and it always happens on a beach. And then it also gets in the way of us experiencing fun because it gets in the way of us experiencing our own lives. If you ever find yourself turning your life into a performance, then you are not having fun.

LIMBONG: All right. So I'm going to come to you, hat in hand, stand in for my listeners, right? if I want to start having more fun today, where do I start? I'll pay you the $500 entry fee to be my fun consultant or whatever.

PRICE: Oh, nice. Oh, great. I'm...

LIMBONG: What's the one thing...

PRICE: ...Making money here.

LIMBONG: What's the one thing I could do? Yeah.

PRICE: If I were to give you a tip here, I would suggest that you think back on moments from your own life that stand out to you as having been fun and notice what themes emerge because these are things that you should prioritize. I'd also say, though, to really play around with the idea of, how could you build more playfulness, connection and flow into your everyday life? You know, how could you be more present? How could you reduce distractions? One suggestion I always give for playfulness in particular that I love is to try to be playfully rebellious. You know, do things that kind of break the rules of adult life a little bit, not in the way of, like, getting you arrested but just something that's - because it delights you. Like, do stuff that delights you, and create delight for other people.

Just as one concrete example, I once gave a talk somewhere. And this woman came up to me, and she told me about how she and her friends had these disco parties in their basement with these portable disco lights. I mean, that itself - roller skates were involved. That was playfully rebellious, but I was like, oh, my goodness, you can buy these disco balls off Amazon for 9.99. And so I ended up buying a bunch of these disco balls and just sending them to friends with, like, no explanation just because I thought, well, that will be delightful, you know? And so just that kind of mentality - how could you bring more delight to the world? - will increase the fun that you experience. And then lastly - this is a great list of one suggestion that I'm giving you. I'm giving you, like, 17. But, you know...

LIMBONG: Yeah. It's one long suggestion. Yeah.

PRICE: One long suggestion - is to prioritize it. Like, that's the most important thing. Take fun seriously. Play around with it, and just notice the difference in your mood. I mean, it's true. I'm a convert. I mean, that's not surprising given that I wrote the book, but we should be having more fun. The world would be a better place if we had more fun.

LIMBONG: That was Catherine Price, author of the book "The Power Of Fun." And her Substack is called How To Feel Alive. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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