Reflect on something for a second: when was the last time you had fun? Are you having trouble remembering, and if you think about it, is it actually kind of hard to even describe what fun is?
Don’t worry, if you feel like fun’s gone missing from your life, and are feeling a little dead inside as a result, Catherine Price and I are here to offer you a fun-tervention.
Catherine is the author of The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, and today on the show, we discuss the three elements of true fun and how it differs from fake fun, how to conduct a fun audit so you can identify your personal fun magnets, how to get a greater kick out of your life, and why you really need to have a Ferris Bueller day.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price
- AoM Article: The Case Against Scheduling Your Fun
- AoM Article: A Lesson From Ernest Hemingway in Why You Should Plan Your Weekends
- The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Connect With Catherine Price
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Reflect on something for a second. When was the last time you had fun? Are you having trouble remembering? And if you think about it, is it actually kind of hard to even describe what fun is? Don’t worry if you feel like fun’s gone missing from your life and are feeling a little dead inside as a result, Catherine Price and I are here to offer you a funtervention. Catherine is the author of The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again. And today on the show, we discuss the three elements of true fun and how it differs from fake fun, how to conduct a fun audit so you can identify your personal fun magnets, how do you get a greater kick out of your life and why you really need to have a Ferris Bueller day. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/fun.
Alright, Catherine Price, welcome to the show.
Catherine Price: Thank you so much for having me.
Brett McKay: So you wrote a whole book about how to have fun. I’m curious, what caused you to take a deep dive into how to have more fun? ‘Cause you look at the research out there that’s on this topic, what was going on in your life where it made you think like, man, I need to have more fun and I need to learn how to do it.
Catherine Price: [laughter] I think the short answer to that is that I’m a huge dork and I wasn’t having enough fun or maybe in the opposite order, I was not having enough fun and I’m a huge dork, so I decided I’d write a book about it. But the contextual response is that I had written my previous book, which is called How to Break Up with Your phone, Which is about creating better boundaries with our devices and I had gone through the steps of my own book myself, and I was feeling pretty good about myself ’cause I’d created more space from my phone and other devices. But I really hadn’t realized that that was gonna open up a new challenge, and that new challenge was that once you reclaim time from your devices, you actually have to figure out what to do with that time. And I began to realize that I had lost sight of what I actually wanted to do with my time. And so I actually had a kind of existential moment in this very room that I’m speaking to you from, where I was sitting on the couch, taking a break from my phone, my kid was then a baby, she was asleep. My husband was out of the house, and I had this glorious hour in front of me to do whatever I wanted to with.
And I realized, oh my goodness, I actually don’t know what I want to do. And I ended up, yeah, having an existential crisis for a minute there, and then asking myself this question that I had been asking people who helped me research How to Break Up with Your Phone. And that question was, what’s something that I say I want to do, but I supposedly don’t have time for? With the idea, and I encourage people to ask themselves that as well, but the idea is that we actually have a lot more time than we realize. We’re just frittering a lot of it away on meaningless things. And my answer was, I wanted to learn guitar. And so I ended up signing up for this guitar class, and it was a group of adults who met on Wednesday nights. BYOB, very informal, and I realized that I was experiencing this kind of sense of joy and energy in that class, that felt at that point in my life as a new parent who’s pretty exhausted, it felt very foreign and really wonderful. And I got very curious about what this feeling was, and in a revelation, that sounds kind of a dumb revelation in retrospect. It took me a little while to realize, oh, it’s fun.
That’s the word. It’s fun. This is so fun. And I got really curious about what exactly what was going on. I’m a science journalist by background, and as I said, I’m also a huge dork, so I basically got intrigued by trying to figure out, was my experience unique? Was this just ’cause I was so fun starved or is this feeling of fun something that is deeply energizing and nourishing and powerful for other people too? And anyway, those questions led me on this journey that resulted in my book, The Power of Fun.
Brett McKay: Okay, so because you’re a science journalist and because you’re a dork, you went to the scientific literature to see what researchers had said about fun, and one thing you discovered, there isn’t a lot of research out there about fun. In the research that does exist, how do psychologists and social scientists, how do they define fun?
Catherine Price: Well, yeah, it was fascinating. So yes, as you’re saying, like any good science journalist dork, I went to PubMed and I looked up fun, the database of biomedical literature. [laughter] And at that point, it actually was the top hit, now I think it’s just one of the top hits, but one of the top hits that popped up when I put fun in was an article that was called… The title was Putting the Fun in Fungi, and it was about toenail fungus. And I just remember laughing when I saw that and thinking, oh my God, if that’s actually one of the top hits on PubMed about fun, then this might actually be worth looking into. And so then I did more searching and there’s really not much at all research has been done about fun. And what has been done is it’s fun adjacent or it’s about toenail fungus, but it’s not really about this feeling. And I realized that probably part of the reason that there’s not much research on this as opposed to other kind of nebulous psychological concepts like happiness or joy, is that there’s not a good definition of fun. And when I looked it up in the dictionary, it said that it was just light-hearted amusement or pleasure.
Light-hearted pleasure. But when I reflected back on my own experiences of things that really stood out to me as having been so fun, truly fun memories, it wasn’t just light-hearted pleasure or amusement, they were something much deeper going on. And I decided to ask the people on my mailing list if they would share fun memories with me, ’cause again, I was trying to see, is this just me? Am I just so fun starved at this moment that this is affecting me more than it is other people? But I ended up collecting literally thousands of stories from people around the world, and when I read through those stories, I was just astonished by the depth of the joy that people were expressing in these stories and the meaning. You know, it quickly became clear that these were some of the most treasured memories they had from their lives, and they weren’t all dramatic, which I think is a really important point. It wasn’t all people on vacation or in an exotic spot, it was these mundane moments, in many cases, that still had this radiant joy coming through them. One that stands out to me and in my mind was someone who told me that they’d had a ton of fun just going out in the rain with their grandfather without umbrellas and just allowing themselves to be deliberately soaked.
And I just love that. There was something very poignant about it, and I’m actually in the process of doing another, what I call funtervention, with the subscribers to my How to Feel Alive mailing list. And just this morning, I was looking through some of the stories that people shared with me about past experiences of fun, and I had the same personal experience that I had when I was looking through the initial batch of stories that people shared, which is that I read through these stories and I have this big smile on my face, but I’m also actually welling up, there’s something very emotional about it. So all that is to say that the dictionary definition of fun, the idea that it is just light-hearted pleasure or amusement doesn’t capture the depth of what the feeling of Fund truly is.
Brett McKay: Fun seems like something we just intuitively know and feel, and that’s inherently free-flowing. When you started this project of researching fun, did you think, am I risking? Am I doing vivisection here, where by intentionally thinking about fun and studying it, I’m gonna kill it in the process.
Catherine Price: I didn’t consciously think about that, although now I have a very vivid image of fun is this personified things played out on an examining table and then I’m standing there with a scalpel murdering it. So thank you for that. No, I think it’s kind of similar to romance or sex where there’s something natural about it, right? But you also could perhaps stand to benefit from thinking about it a bit too. Maybe not in the moment. I don’t think you should be in the middle of a fun experience and be like, okay, hold on guys, let’s talk about what’s making this fun.
You don’t wanna pull people out of the moment flow, as we can talk about is one of the three components, I believe, is part of the definition of fun. But I think there is a real benefit to paying more attention to fun, because a lot of times we have these fun moments and we enjoy them, but they kind of slip away because we don’t identify them as fun. We don’t really pay attention to them, and that means that we don’t really enjoy them as much as we could by reflecting back and savoring them afterwards, but we also miss out on learning about what made it fun for us, in hopes that we can actually put ourselves in more situations where fun might occur in the future. So I think you don’t wanna take yourself out of the moment, but there is actually a benefit to thinking about it and not just kind of assuming it’s going to happen because especially as we become adults and our lives get busier and we take on more responsibilities, it doesn’t happen as often. Or we don’t notice it happening as often, so I think it’s actually a skill that’s worth developing.
Brett McKay: Okay, so science doesn’t have really good definitions of fun. There’s fun adjacent definitions, it’s joy, it’s amusement, but during your research and talking with your fun squads that you’ve developed through your mailing list that you have, you made a distinction between true fun and fake fun. What’s the difference between the two?
Catherine Price: I’m gonna get very dorky here, so thank you, thank you for that question. Yes, so I wanted to come up with a better definition of what fun is that better matched the experiences that not only I, but the people on my mailing list were having and were expressing when they told me stories about fun. And I noticed that there were three factors that popped up again and again and again in people’s stories, three psychological states they seem to be in when they had these moments of fun. And the three states are playfulness, connection and flow. So I touched on flow a minute ago, but flow is the state you get into when you’re completely actively engaged and present in what you’re doing. You’re in the zone, you know like it’s an athlete in the middle of a game, it’s a musician playing a piece of music. The psychologist who coined the term did a lot of work studying rock climbers, so you can imagine if you were actually scaling a rock face, you’re totally actively engaged in what you’re doing. We can get into flow in a conversation, when we’re working on something, there’s many opportunities to be in flow. The important thing about flow is that it’s active, so time passes very quickly when you’re in flow and a lot of times people will say, oh, that happens when I watch Netflix.
And it’s like, yes, you lose track of time when you watch Netflix, but that’s what’s considered to be junk flow because it’s sort of passive consumption. True flow is this active, engaged, present state. Then playfulness, I always like to clarify for adults, because a lot of adults kind of clench up when they… I can see it when I give talks, you say playfulness and there’s all these grown-ups who kind of get a little bit more like rigid in their seats. It doesn’t mean that you have to be childish necessarily or silly, or play charades or make believe or something like that, those are two of my personal nightmares. It’s really about the attitude that you bring to situations, so coming at life with a light-hearted attitude, finding ways to laugh, not taking yourself too seriously.
Letting your guard down, there’s actually something beautifully vulnerable about being in a state of playfulness and fun, so it’s really the attitude that you’re bringing to things. And then connection was very interesting because I noticed in the vast vast majority of stories that people shared with me, another person was involved in their experience of fun. Then I followed up the request for stories by actually asking people on the mailing list like a series of questions, and these poor people actually answered them. So this was my research project here, but I gave ’em this list of descriptors and I asked them to pick ones that would apply to what they had just told me. And the two top choices that people picked were laughter, which I thought was very telling, but also special shared experience, the feeling that you had a special shared experience with someone else.
There were times when that someone else was a dog, there were occasional times when it was a sense of connection with the physical environment or the activity or with yourself, but really, most people told stories with other people in them, and that was true even for introverts. In fact, a number of people said something along the lines of, I’m a self-proclaimed introvert, and yet all of the stories that I just told you involved another person. So I came to believe that true fun, as I call it, is the confluence of these three states, is the center of the Venn diagram of playfulness, connection and flow. And as we can talk more about, if you’d like, I think that it is actually a really useful definition, because once you break fun down to these three components of playfulness and connection and flow, it gives you a much more accessible entry point in terms of figuring out ways to have more fun in your daily life. And then to go back to your original question of why do I say true fun instead of just fun?
It’s because I have this other concept that came to me when I was doing my research called fake fun, because I realized, oh, we use the word fun really casually in our everyday speech to describe all sorts of feelings and activities, some of which are truly fun that lead to this energizing, nourishing state of playful, connected flow. But others that are almost like junk food, they’re very appealing, easy to spend time on but you don’t end up feeling nourished afterwards, and that, the biggest culprit by far I would say is social media in that regard. And then things like binge-watching television beyond the point of enjoyment where you end up feeling gross afterwards. So I decided to refer to those types of experiences and activities as fake fun, meaning something that’s marketed to us as fun, but it doesn’t actually result in playful flow. And then I do like to clarify too, those are two big buckets. You have things that produce true fun, things that lead to fake fun, but I also think there’s another third category of things we do with our leisure time, which are things that are just enjoyable and nourishing, maybe relaxing, maybe more solitary, that don’t lead to true fun, but they’re still really worthwhile. And those would be things like going for a walk or watching a TV show before you end up feeling gross about it or reading a book.
Something that’s a little bit quieter, and I think that that’s useful, useful to make this distinction about these three categories, ’cause it means that you can come into your leisure time much more consciously and you can be more aware of the fake fun so that ideally you can reduce or eliminate it because it ends up feeling like a waste of time. And then you can ask yourself, well, do I need something that’s really energizing right now? In which case, maybe I should do something that might lead to true fun. Or do I just mean something that’s going to help me decompress and relax and nourish myself in a different way, and then you can choose from your list of enjoyable activities. So for me at least, it’s really helped me make much more intentional use of my leisure time.
Brett McKay: Something you talk about, and this goes along with your last book that you wrote about breaking up with your phone, is that a big reason we default to fake fun over true fun in the modern world, is that our phones are always ready to distract us into just passive scrolling and passive amusement that it isn’t really fun? You have to be present to have flow. So you say that anything that distracts you is gonna prevent you from having that true fun. But then also something you say that prevents us from having fun is just being over-committed, being busy with all of this stuff that’s going on in our life, work, school, kids. And the other issue with having fun is that it takes other people to have fun, but those other people are also busy with their lives, and so it’s hard to get together with people. And I know I’ve seen this in my own life, and I’m sure that people can relate where you wanna get together with some friends for something, but then you have to plan for it like three weeks in advance.
Catherine Price: It’s like 237 texts go back and forth.
Brett McKay: Yeah, ’cause everyone has different schedules ’cause one kid’s doing basketball, another kid’s doing some other thing, and yeah.
Catherine Price: Yeah, I think youth soccer, maybe that’s one of the major impediments to adult fun.
Brett McKay: Yeah, right, exactly. The traveling team. You say another thing that gets in the way of our fun is that we think it’s just frivolous. It’s a nice thing to do when you got the time but it’s not important, it’s not something worth prioritizing, but not only… You make the case that not only is fun something valuable in and of itself, you can make a utilitarian case for being proactive about having fun. When you highlight all these benefits that come with having fun, they can keep you present. It can unify a group of people, it can boost your happiness, it can make us more creative, and it can actually ultimately make us more productive. And then you also talk about that fun has a bunch of benefits for our physical health.
Catherine Price: Yeah. I found this to be absolutely fascinating. So as I said, I’m a science journalist by background. That was inspired by the fact that I have type 1 diabetes, and so I’m constantly thinking about how our environments and our behaviors affect our physical health. And I realize that two of the biggest factors that are impeding our physical health these days are stress and loneliness, loneliness and isolation. And the reason that those two factors are so bad for us is that emotional stress and loneliness and isolation, spike our levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that’s there to help us respond to physical threat. So cortisol does stuff like increase our heart rate or our blood pressure or our blood glucose, and it empowers us and enables us to flee from a physical threat, but it’s not good if it’s elevated chronically over time in response to emotional stressors. And when you recognize what cortisol does in the body with the heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, among other things, you can see why it’s associated with an elevated risk for things like heart attack and stroke and type 2 diabetes and obesity.
So the reason I bring that up is that if you buy my definition that fun is a state of playful, connected flow, it is by definition a relaxed state in which you are not experiencing emotional stress. And it’s also a state of social connection, so you’re not lonely and isolated when you’re having fun. So I just thought it was fascinating because again, while I don’t know of any research studies that have looked directly at this definition of fun and could give you a footnote on this, I think it stands to reason that by relaxing us and putting us into more situations of social connection, fun could actually be considered to be a health intervention.
Brett McKay: No, I’d agree, and I’ve seen that in my own life where when I do make time for fun, I think your definition is on. It’s that playful connection, the flow state. You make plans for things that are fun and you’re like, oh, my gosh, it’s going to be a lot of work. Getting ready for a camping trip, getting ready for a cookout or something like that. That’s…
Catherine Price: That’s true. The gear. The gear. But some people find that fun. But yes, I agree with you. The packing list.
Brett McKay: Yeah. And that’s why you put it off. Actually, we’ve got some friends that one of their saying is having fun is a lot of work, but it’s worth it. But I noticed when I make the time for fun, I see these benefits in my life. I just feel energized with my work. I get new ideas. I’m more relaxed. Even if I stayed up late talking with friends, the next day I feel great.
Catherine Price: Yeah. And I’m curious. I mean, when you’re talking about the times in which you have fun, can you share an experience that stands out to you as having been truly fun?
Brett McKay: Oh, sure. Just random getting together with friends on a weeknight and just talking and having conversation. I find conversation very fun. You get in the flow. There’s a playfulness to it, and there’s that connection aspect. Backpacking is another one our family likes to do. Again, backpacking is a lot of work, so you have to get the gear and then plan where you’re going to go and get the food and travel there. But once you actually do it, it feels great. Those are the ones that stick out to me off the top of my head.
Catherine Price: Well, I think it’s interesting, too, because you kind of alluded to something that I always like to point out to people is that it’s not necessarily… People tend to think that the fun is the activity itself, but what I’ve realized reading through people’s stories and reflecting on this, is that the fun is the feeling that results from the activity, which I think is really important. Going back to what gets in the way of our ability to have fun as adults or in modern life and this busyness. People kind of assume that if they’re going to have more fun, then they need to do more things like backpacking trips. And I do think if that typically leads to fun for people, you should prioritize it, but you don’t necessarily need to do that. If you recognize that, oh, I can also have this feeling of fun, like you’re saying, from talking with friends or maybe there’s particular friends who are particularly fun to talk to who produce this feeling. Because what I realized for myself, it’s like you can do the exact same “fun activity”, and sometimes it’s really fun, and then sometimes it’s not fun at all, and then sometimes it’s just in the middle. Like I’m sure with your backpacking trips, you could probably rattle off like a few that fall into each of those categories.
And I think that’s just an important insight. It has been, for me at least, to be like, oh, okay, I need to put less pressure on the activity itself and just seek out situations where I can get this feeling. I mean, with that said, I also think that there’s what I call fun magnets, which is a term I totally made up that refers to each of our personal collection of activities and people and settings that are more likely than others to produce this feeling of fun for us.
So, for example, one of my fun magnets is playing music with friends, and it’s a particular group of friends. So that very often, if not always, results in some level of true fun for me. And so I make a point to prioritize that. My husband, on the other hand, he doesn’t play an instrument, so that’s not a fun magnet for him at all. That’s kind of a boring night out. And then for him, he loves overnight camping trips.
I have bad knees, and diabetes does not lend itself well to trail mix and pasta. I love being outside, but I’m not as much of a fan of overnight camping trips. Those are much more of a fun magnet for him. And so I encourage listeners to kind of think back on your own fun memories and ask yourself, are there any themes that stand out? Any activities that stand out to you or people or contexts or settings? Because those are probably your fun magnets, and it’s important to then prioritize them. And also, if you’re in a relationship, get to know your partner’s fun magnets or your kids fun magnets or just other people’s fun magnets. And now I’m veering into couples therapy mode. I’m not a couple’s therapist, but I think it’s really important for people in relationships to recognize each other’s fun magnets and to give the other person space for theirs and to encourage them to prioritize it, in addition to figuring out what fun magnets you share and doing those together. But I’m so grateful to my husband that he recognizes how important music is to me, and he’ll take care of our kid when I am out playing with my friends, it makes such a difference. It’s so good for our relationship and honestly for me in terms of my ability to be a good partner and parent.
So when people ask me, how can I have more fun? I think about it in two angles to it. I feel like I’m starting to sound like an engineer. Just engineer your fun magnets. You can make more fun in your life. So there’s that side of things which gets back to your vivisection analogy, but I think it’s very important. It’s like, okay, we’ll figure out what’s likely to lead to fun for you and the people in your life and then create space for it. That’s the one side. And then what I’ve also realized is that you also then have this element of fun, as you were also alluding to, that’s spontaneous, that can’t be planned for.
So I think that we need to come at it from two different angles. One is, all right, what are your fun magnets? What typically generates fun for you? How can you prioritize it? How can you make space for those things in the life of someone you care about? And then on the other side, how do you open yourself up more to spontaneity? And that’s where I think it’s so important to ask yourself, okay, well, how can I make more space in my life in general? If it’s by saying no to some obligations that are no longer essential or enjoyable, or if it’s by making a point to look up from your phone instead of down at your phone, just so you can kind of present yourself to the world as someone who could be interacted with.
I mean, that, I think, is enormously important, is just to be more present in the world, because there’s actually opportunities for little moments of fun around us all the time if we start to become better at kind of paying attention to them and seeking them out. There was a story someone told me once. He was a comedian, actually, and he told me this story about how he had had what he described as two hours of true fun with his nephew. And he said all they were doing was sitting on this park bench and they were trying to catch leaves as they fell off of a tree.
And when he told me that story, I was like, oh, my God. It’s like a perfect literal metaphor because you were literally catching little moments of leaves off of a tree. But the metaphor is that there actually are these opportunities for fun floating around us all the time. We just need to be better at reaching out and grabbing them. So I was very appreciative to him for telling me that story. It really created a lovely image in my own mind.
Brett McKay: We’re going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show. Well, I’m going back to this idea that fun isn’t necessarily the activity that you do, it’s the feeling you get from an activity. Because fun is subjective, right? As you alluded to, one person can think one activity is fun, and the other person can think, boy, this is terrible. I need to stop this. And I’m sure we’ve all had that experience where we’ve seen something that looks like fun. Like, you see other people having fun doing said activity, and then you’re like, well, I’m going to go do that. And you’re like, oh, man, are we having fun yet? This is terrible, what is going on here? So let’s talk about, you do have this idea of a fun audit. Like, figure out what brings fun in your life. So are there questions that you found that are really useful to help you figure out what are the factors or what are the magnets in an activity that allow me to have fun? Some people might be listening. I can’t remember last time I had fun. So I don’t know. And I’m not in touch with it.
Catherine Price: And it’s okay. You’re not alone.
Brett McKay: Yeah. So how do you figure this out? How do you figure out getting in touch with what’s fun for you?
Catherine Price: Yeah. Well, I mean, I really would say, don’t worry if you’re listening to this and you’re like, oh, my God, my life is so lame. I don’t even know what fun is. You’re okay. You do know what fun is. Maybe you’ve never thought consciously about it. Totally fine. We can help you through this. I would suggest the first thing to do is what we’ve been talking about, which is actually set aside a little bit of time and think back. Even just on 2023, just think, what’s a fun memory that stands out? Don’t put too much pressure on it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most fun you ever had in your life, but just, like, what stands out as fun? And just start with this kind of, like, low bar.
Because once you start tapping into this type of memory, you may find that you start to come up with more and more. It becomes easier. I also would recommend doing that with someone, a friend or your spouse, your partner or your kid, whoever, just actually have a conversation about, let’s think back, what were some fun memories that stand out to us? And if you’re the kind of person who likes taking notes, you can actually just jot down some of these memories. I think that can be useful. And then what you want to do is not only notice what it feels like in your body and in your mind to think about past fun and to hear someone else talk about past fun. It’s a joyful experience, I found.
But then you can look at your stories, and as I was saying earlier, you can ask yourself, is there any themes that come out? So you’ll take the story, and then you can ask yourself, okay, what are some of my fun magnets? What people just really help me get into this state of playful, connected flow? Or are there particular settings. For me, I loved camp as a child or as a teenager, and even as an adult, I organize camp weekends for groups of my friends. And going back to what you were saying, total pain in the butt to organize these weekends, it is not fun to do all the logistics.
But I know that summer camp is, for me, a context in which I tend to have a lot of fun. It leads to this playfulness and this connection. And then you can also ask yourself, like, what are the activities that typically lead to fun? That might be the easiest one, because all of us, I think, can identify activities that we typically enjoy. We’re normally not too horrible about that. It’s just recognizing that, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s a fun magnet. Like, I actually should prioritize that because of the fun. But you might also want to ask yourself for the non obvious activities.
For example, what you just said, like hanging out with friends at night and having conversations doesn’t sound like an activity you list on a list of hobbies per se, but it’s something that leads to fun. So it takes some time to try to figure out these themes so that you can pull out these fun magnets. And again, the benefit of that is that then you can actually reserve time for those things on your schedule.
Actually prioritize them in the same way you’d prioritize, I would hope, a doctor’s appointment or some kind of important meeting. And then if you want to take it a step further, I think it’s kind of fun to try to figure out what I call your fun factors, which is the characteristics of those people and settings and activities that make them fun. So, for example, if one of your fun magnets is backpacking trips, maybe one of your fun factors is nature. Like being outside in nature. Maybe it’s the particular type of group you’re with when you’re out in nature. Maybe it’s the physical activity that tends to lead to fun for you. Like for me, clearly music is a fun factor for me because when music is involved, I tend to have more fun. There’s the element of community and creation that tends to lead to fun for me. But just as an example, if we use me playing music with friends as an example that we can draw from, another fun factor for a lot of people is performance.
You might find the performing aspect really fun. And I’ve realized for me, that’s actually really not what it’s about. It is about creating something with a group of people and feeling very connected to them in the moment. And if we perform, that’s kind of like an added bonus. That might be fun, might not be fun, but it’s not a primary driver for me in terms of fun. And so I’d recommend kind of figuring out these characteristics, these fun factors, because it can help you generate new ideas for things to try. Because one of the shortcuts and kind of hacks to fun is to try new things, ideally with other people. If we wanted to condense our conversation into just like, a sentence, and the people are like, how can I have more fun? I’d say, okay, well, try something new with another person. And also more situations where you’re laughing.
If you’re laughing, you’re probably having fun. So if you want, like, a tell for when you’re having fun, it’s probably you probably laughed. Anyway, so I think that those are some of the steps I’d recommend starting with, in terms of trying to figure out what you can actually prioritize and plan for and kind of play around with, what can you experiment with? I’ve done a bunch of that myself.
One of the things that this whole process has led to, as I said, I took up the guitar. I already played piano, but I don’t know. I got invited randomly to a drum class one time, and I was like, oh, okay, I don’t know, I’ll try drumming. That sounds like it could be fun. And now that’s like, my obsession. I love drumming. It is so so so so fun. Even though it was a little scary to start, it’s like a hard thing, and trying anything new can be a little bit intimidating. But I’m so grateful I did.
So I would play around with that. And then on the flip side, again, in terms of figuring out ways to invite more fun into your life, we do need to create a little bit more mental space. And I do think that starting with your phone is a very, very good place to start, is how can you create better boundaries with your phone, whether it’s by reducing notifications or creating physical boundaries where you, for example, I charge my phone at night in the closet, creating no phone zones where your phone just isn’t around.
So if you’re with people, put your phone away because if your phone’s out, it’s going to kind of distract you a little bit, and that’s going to get in the way of your potential ability to lose yourself in the moment and to have fun. Or if you’re in an Uber, for example, like, maybe don’t have your phone out. I’m not saying that you have to get into a conversation with the Uber driver. It might not lead to true fun, but it’ll at least give you a little bit more of a moment to engage in the world. Just as a side anecdote, this is kind of sad, but I try to do that myself when I’m taking rideshare and things, and I’ve had now three separate drivers ask me if I’m okay because I’ve been looking out the window. And I’m like, yeah, I was looking at a cloud, and they’re like, okay. I’m just checking.
I’m like, oh, my God. So maybe that’s inspiring because it’s like very low-hanging fruit. Anything you can do to create better boundaries with your phone is probably going to make you more present and open yourself up to more opportunities. But one more concrete example of that, I’ve had two separate people recently tell me about past experiences of true fun when they were waiting in the airport for a delayed flight.
Brett McKay: Oh, my goodness.
Catherine Price: And I think that really speaks to the fact that it’s a feeling and not an activity, because literally nobody would say, you know what’s on my list of fun times, airport delays. But in both cases, it was because they ended up having some kind of engagement with the people around them. One guy told me he had gotten into this very funny conversation with some of the other people in line with him, waiting for the customer service desk. I mean, he was, like, glowing telling me about this.
And then someone just told me about the adventures they ended up having with their family when they were stuck in the airport. And they kind of went on this exploration, and they were like, I never would have chosen to do this. It doesn’t sound like it would have been fun at all, but we ended up actually having a really great time together.
Brett McKay: That reminds me of a time my family, we landed in Chicago, it was a layover because we’re on our way home to Tulsa. But then my wife, she realized that she accidentally booked an itinerary that had… It was a seven hour layover in Chicago. And at first, we were just like, oh, my gosh, this is awful. This is the worst news ever. But then we decided to take a taxi to see the Chicago Children’s Museum, and we ended up having a blast on that layover. And what else do we… Oh, yeah, we got a great hot dog. A great Chicago hot dog as well. So, I mean, you’re not at the mercy of circumstances. You can convert what seemingly seems like a bad circumstance into fun. Okay, so in this fun audit, look back on the past year, and you also recommend having people look back when they were a kid.
Catherine Price: Yeah, I think that can be useful too. Like, what did you love doing when you were nine years old? When you were 13 years old? When you were 17 years old, what did you used to be passionate about before life got in the way? And that can be really useful because you probably can tap back into some of that. If you used to play a lot of music. I mean, sorry, I keep talking about that. I’m like, literally looking at my guitar. But there’s probably a way to do a little bit of that. Or if you loved a sport, like, is there a way to get back in touch with something that’s physical, even if it’s not necessarily that sport per se. But yeah, look back on your own life. Because, again, I think we’ve all had fun, thankfully, at some point. So it’s a matter of paying more attention to it so you can kind of identify it. You can probably identify most of the moments from your life in which you were truly terrified. Because our brains are very good at remembering negative, frightening things. That’s an evolutionary strategy to keep us alive, is to be very attuned to threats. It takes much more conscious effort to attune yourself to things that make you feel good.
Brett McKay: And so when you look back, look for signs of fun, of that playfulness, connection, flow. So you talk about signs. You’d mentioned some of them, laughter, feeling like you’re connected to other people, losing track of time, feeling childlike excitement and joy is another sign. So if you see those things in those moments as you look back in your life or your year, then that’s how you can figure out what those fun magnets are and what those fun factors are. As you said, there’s certain people, it might be just certain people that you spend time with that allow you to have fun. I know my wife and I, we’ve got some good friends of ours, they used to live here in Oklahoma, but then they moved. But we have a lot of fun with them, so, like, we still, once a year, try to get together to do something with them because we know we’ll have fun with them.
Catherine Price: Yeah. It’s so important. I think that’s so easy to let slip. It’s just we’re going to have to figure out the logistics and so years can go by and you don’t see some of your favorite people. That’s something that’s changed for me in the past couple of years. The reason I started organizing these summer camp weekends for friends was that a friend of mine from college, a dear friend whom I don’t see as often as I should, although I will say we did a summer camp this summer together. But his dad died, I think, in 2016, and I went to his memorial service and there were 200 to 300, I don’t know how many people. He was a professor and he was quite beloved, celebrating him. And I thought, oh, my God, this is both amazing, but it’s also so sad that he’s not here and that it took his death to bring these people together. And I mean, not to get all existential, but I’m like, why are we not doing this when we’re alive?
So that’s when I started organizing these weekends, and it’s been wonderful. So, yeah, I would say definitely think about who you have fun with, who do you love being around and make it happen. And on the flip side, there’s probably people in your life that are not fun.
And obviously, there are some people like that you’re just gonna have to deal with if it’s a co-worker or your boss or whatever, or a family member that you just don’t enjoy being around. But there are other people whom you do have more choice with, and they might even be people that you were friends with for a long ago, and you’re just actually not that good friends now, but you’ve kind of… You’re keeping it up just ’cause. Maybe let some of those go because again, our lives are very full and it’s, our time and attention are both zero sum. When you pay attention or spend time on one thing, you can’t spend time or attention on something else, so you need to clear out space. So I’d also encourage that kind of reflection like, “Oh, does someone consistently actually bring me down when I’m with them, ’cause maybe I wanna try to spend a bit less time with them.”
Brett McKay: Okay, so once you figure out what your fun factors are, your fun magnets are, you gotta start trying to be more intentional about having fun. So you have this acronym, SPARK on How to Have More Fun. S is for make more Space, P is for Pursue passions, A is for Attract fun, R is for Rebel, K is for Keeping at it. And we’ve talked about some of these things, we’ve talked about making space, so if you’re over-committed, see if there’s things you can get rid of in your life so you can have more time for fun. You talk about changing your relationship with your phone, ’cause that just will suck you into fake fun so spend less time on your phone and make more time for actual true fun. The things that really bring you joy. But I want you to talk about this idea of attracting fun. ‘Cause I think a lot of what we’ve been talking about so far is how to have big fun, like those things that might take a lot of planning. So like a backpacking trip, or maybe you’re gonna go see a concert with some friends, but what about just like that spontaneous fun, how can you attract more of that just sort of like day-to-day life, you have more of those feelings of fun where it’s playfulness, connection and flow.
Catherine Price: Yeah, so attract fun part of that involves what I call adopting a fun mindset, which is a play off of growth mindset. And so it’s basically like opening yourself to opportunities of fun that might already exist, and then also seeking out ways that you might be able to create those moments of fun by which I mean moments of playfulness, connection or flow. They don’t all have to happen at once. If you hit… I think of it as being like a target and you’re playing darts, you just wanna hit anywhere. Well, if you’re me playing darts, you wanna hit anywhere on the board, you’re pretty psyched. And then the closer you get to the center, the better. So if you are in a moment of flow, that’s great, and if it’s also playful, even better, and if you’re also connected in that, great. Then you hit the bullseye. So one way to do so is to adopt the practice that improv comedians talk about a lot, which is yes, and… Which basically is not just shutting things down automatically and trying to both be open to new ideas and to build on them. So in an improv comedy setting, if someone makes a suggestion on stage, if they say like, I’m Santa Claus.
Your response should not be, no, you’re not. It should be, oh, you are. And here’s a present, I don’t know. You do something else. The reason that stands out to me is because I took an improv comedy class once, and it turns out I’m horrible at improv comedy. I love it, but I’m horrible at it. And someone did say, “I’m Santa Claus,” and my response was, “No, you’re not.” And then they called scene, so it’s a little traumatic, not fun for me that anyway, but if you can kind of adopt this attitude where you say yes to opportunities or you say yes to ideas, I’ve got one friend who tries to do this, like she does this all the time. I remember thanking her for saying yes to some weird invitation I had extended to her, and she just goes, “I always try.” And I just thought that was so beautiful. It’s like, try to be that person who says yes, and try to be that person who then builds on it and brings a bit more playfulness to the situation or a bit more connection or what have you, or someone who invites other people to do stuff.
So that’s part of adopting this fun mindset. The other way is to adopt practices where you’re just trying to help people. I mean this is a little specific, but the practice of noticing and sharing things that delight you as a way to kind of, a shortcut into having a fun mindset. So the idea there, and this is an idea I got from The Book of Delights by the poet Ross Gay, which I highly recommend. It’s basically just instead of allowing your brain to naturally tune into all the negative scary things out there, you make a conscious decision, you’re just gonna scan your environment throughout your day for anything that delights you. And when you notice something that delights you, it doesn’t have to be deep. I get a lot of delight out of squirrels. You put a finger in the air and you say out loud, delight, which sounds ridiculous. Perhaps not inherently manly, but I will tell you, I’ve suggested this at a number of conferences, and I had a very funny experience where I walk past some men who were coming out the men’s room, and one of them saw me and he goes, “We were just talking about delight at the urinals,” and I was like, “I have so many questions for you, but I also delight.
That is itself a delight, I am delighted that you told me that and that whatever happened in there happened.” So my point is that if you get to this practice of noticing delights, it really can boost your spirits and it can help train you to get into a fun mindset by noticing these moments of levity and absurdity and beauty and what have you that exist. And if you take it a step further and you share your delights with other people, and I think this is a lovely thing to do with your family in particular, like I do this with my daughter, she’s eight and we share delights with each other. Another thing you can do is to think about ways that you could just bring delight to other people, like how could you do something that would brighten someone else’s day, because chances are it’ll brighten your day too. And you can actually become a “fun person” simply by shifting your attitude, and I think that’s the deeper message here, is that when I asked people, ’cause I did this in my big survey that I sent to my mailing list when I was researching my book. I said, describe someone from your life that you think of as a fun person.
And then tell me what makes them fun. And I guess I’d kind of assumed like I think many people would, that people would describe people who are “the life of the party” or the class clown, or someone who was kind of exuberant and boisterous, and that was not always the case. There were a lot of examples where the person who was “fun” was considered to be fun because they did things like say yes to things, or make people feel comfortable in their presence, or laugh along with people, not necessarily be the source of the laughter, but be the person who laughs. And I thought that was really interesting because it shows that you don’t have to be extroverted to be a “fun person.” It really is all about adopting this fun mindset. And just to go back to the delight example, like an example of how I decided to spread delight is at some point, I was at a talk and someone showed me these pictures of portable disco balls that they had been using to great effect in their own life, and I realized that said disco balls were like 999 on Amazon.
And so I went online and I just bought four of these disco balls, obviously one for myself, but then I just sent them to friends with no explanation, just as a way to delight them, and it was just such a treat. Then people wrote back to me, my best friend from journalism school was like, oh, thank you for the disco ball, my daughter loves it. And I wrote back, I was like, that was not for your daughter. But it’s like, what can you do to just brighten someone’s day? And then also, what can you do for yourself to help you get a kick out of your own life? It’s okay to enjoy your own life, it’s actually really important because you’ll be able to bring so much more positive energy to everything you do if you’re enjoying your own life, and that’s part of the fun mindset, and it’s also a part of the R in the SPARK acronym, which is Rebel, which actually was probably my favorite one of all five of those letters because I noticed in stories that people sent me, there often was this element of playful rebellion in them, this kind of breaking the rules of responsible adulthood, just a little bit. Not doing anything illegal, but just doing something you wouldn’t expect a “responsible grownup” to do.
So for example, the woman who showed me the disco balls, the context was that she worked for a financial, a major financial firm, and she was showing me a video of her and her co-workers in their 40s in one of their basements, it was an unfinished basement, and they all were on roller skates doing a disco party. And they had these balls on and one of them was dressed as a butterfly, I don’t know. It was very odd. Totally delightful. And I was like, “Wow, that is not what you would think.” And I don’t think that they were incredibly drunk or anything, they were just having a fun time being playful and just doing something goofy together. And I just love that as an example of a form of rebellion, not what you would expect these people to be doing. And I think there’s an element of the sense of rebellion that itself generates fun, just doing something a little bit, naughty might be too strong even, and even something like instead of listening to the news when you drive home today, like turn on a song that you loved when you were a teenager and just sing along to it, maybe even like air drum, do something like that, where you’re just like doing something that you get a kick out of just because you get a kick out of it. And then notice what difference it makes in your own mood to just seek out opportunities to do things like that for yourself and for other people.
Brett McKay: Yeah, this idea of rebel made me think, I wanna do this with my kids. And I need to do it more in my life. Have a Ferris Bueller day.
Catherine Price: Oh yeah.
Brett McKay: Where you just, you call into school, you call into work, you just say, “Hey, I’m not coming in today.” And it’s not because you’re sick, it’s ’cause you just wanna go do Ferris Bueller stuff. You wanna go to a baseball game in the middle of the day, you wanna go to museum. That could be fun, so like yeah, find a Ferris Bueller day for yourself.
Catherine Price: I think that’s a great… That’s also why it pretty much my favorite movie of all time, but yeah, exactly. And I think that’s why people love that movie because it’s like the condensation like that is fun, Ferris Bueller is fun. That day is fun. We all of the generation that grew up with that movie, can probably quote numerous things from that movie, and the whole twist and shot everything about that is fun. So yes, I would highly recommend finding a way to create more Ferris Bueller moments.
Brett McKay: It’s just like playing hooky, people need to play hooky more often.
Catherine Price: We need to play hooky, and the irony is that you think it’s gonna make you less productive or whatever, but it’s not because you’re gonna come back refreshed, you’re gonna have a wonderful time, it’s going to energize you. And those are the moments that you remember, like I remember Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and I was not in the movie. But any time you do that…
Brett McKay: Cameron, yeah you’re right. Ferris Bueller is the fun movie.
Catherine Price: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Yeah. There’s playfulness. There’s connection. And then there’s flow.
Catherine Price: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It’s like a perfect example of it. Yeah, I guess rebellion, I don’t know how he, like when he goes in and pretends that he’s the sausage king of Chicago, that’s rebellious. The whole thing obviously is rebellious. Oh, I wanna go watch that movie now. Okay.
Brett McKay: Yeah, recently I came out with my son just watched it, he’s 13, and he watched Ferris Bueller and he thought it was the greatest movie ever, and I think I was 13 when I watched Ferris Bueller.
Catherine Price: Yeah, I was wondering. Okay.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Catherine Price: I was like, is it still funny to people that didn’t grow up with it?
Brett McKay: No.
Catherine Price: It’s good to know.
Brett McKay: It still is, it stands. Well, Catherine, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Catherine Price: Well, I would love it if people would sign up for my newsletter, it’s called How to Feel Alive, and if you search for Catherine Price and how to feel alive, you will find it. It’s technically on Substack, but if you want like a one-stop shop for all of my stuff, including the sign up for that, it’s catherineprice.com. Yeah, you can learn about my books, the newsletter, I also have courses based on both of my books or both of my most recent books, How to Break Up with Your Phone and The Power of Fun that walk you through the steps of the book. So I’d love to have some of your listeners join the community. Yeah, and just my whole goal is to help people scroll less and live more, and I myself am definitely included in that, the list of people who need that intervention, so I’d love to have your listeners come along.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Catherine Price, thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Catherine Price: Thank you so much. This has been truly fun, and you know I don’t just say that.
Brett McKay: Well, thank you. My guest here is Catherine Price, she’s the author of the book, The Power of Fun. It’s available on amazon.com and book stores everywhere. You can find more information about her work at her website, catherineprice.com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/fun, where you find links to resources where you delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM podcast. Make sure to check out our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives, and while you’re there, make sure to sign up for our newsletter, we have a daily option and a weekly option. They’re both free, and it’s the best way to keep on top of what’s going on at Art of Manliness. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review of the podcast on Spotify, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support and until next time, it’s Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to The Art of Manliness Podcast podcast, put what you’ve heard into action.