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How to make space for fun in life

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When was the last time you had fun - not just like, oh, I saw a funny TikTok, that was fun, but true fun, like when you'd run around playing tag with friends as a kid?

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CATHERINE PRICE: We are out of practice when it comes to fun, and we haven't recognized or paid attention to fun that much. And as a result, we don't even remember how good it feels.

SHAPIRO: Catherine Price is author of the book "The Power of Fun." For NPR's Life Kit, Julia Furlan spoke with Price about how you can identify what's truly fun and carve out the space and time for it. Here's part of their conversation, starting with Julia.

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JULIA FURLAN: I kind of want to start out at the top of this interview just acknowledging really explicitly that, like, in order to have fun, you need to have your basic needs met. You need to be in a place where you have, you know, safety and all of those basic things. You need space and safety because I think that's something that, like, I just want to, like, make it really, really explicit.

PRICE: So what I'd say to that is that, first of all, if you don't have food on the table, if you don't have a place to live, you know, if you're - you've got someone who's seriously sick in your family that you're caring for and that's just all-consuming, I am certainly not saying that you should then add fun to your to-do list. With that said, I think it is very interesting to push back on some other aspects of those assumptions and those arguments against fun. And one is the idea that you can only have fun if you're already doing well. And something I discovered in my research that I thought was really interesting is that the opposite is actually true, that fun can help us do better when we're not doing well.

FURLAN: What are some of the techniques, the very simple techniques, that people can use to help them make some space for fun?

PRICE: I do think the first step in trying to prioritize fun is to figure out a way to make more space and time for it. And often, a lot of the lowest hanging fruit is going to be the time we're currently spending on our devices. And then the next step is to just get curious about your own curiosity. I started asking myself this question, and that question was - what is something I say I want to do, but I supposedly don't have time for?

FURLAN: Right.

PRICE: And I really encourage people to ask themselves that and just see what comes to mind. And for me, what came to mind was learn the guitar because I have a guitar. I have supposedly long wanted to learn to play it. So I ended up signing up for this guitar class at this music studio here in Philadelphia. And it was BYOB. It was Wednesday nights. And it was just so interesting because as I went to this class, I started to feel this sense of energy that buoyed me for the rest of the week, you know? Wednesday nights quickly became the highlight of my week. And I got really intrigued by that feeling. I was like, what is that? And also, you know, is it about this skill that we're learning? 'Cause I think another misperception we have about fun is that if we just stuff more things into our schedules, and we just try more things and have more activities, that's going to be fun. So to answer your question about how to get started, don't do that 'cause what I quickly realized is that, yeah, it was nice to learn guitar. But it was really the experience of being with other adults in this context where there was no reason other than to have a good time, to play.

FURLAN: So can you talk a little bit about the difference between fake fun and true fun and how we can differentiate between the two?

PRICE: So you might be wondering why I'm talking about true fun as opposed to just fun. So the reason for that is because I realized that the fact that we don't have a good definition of fun means that we're really susceptible to anyone who wants to use the word fun to sell us on their product or their service or their activity, even if that thing does not result in playful, connected flow. So I use the fake fun to refer to any activity or product or, in some cases, people who aren't actually fun, who are presented to us as fun, but they're not fun. Once you're able to identify and call out fake fun for what it is, then it becomes much easier to clear out space for the good stuff, the true fun.

FURLAN: I think that - what one of the things that I saw as a distinction here that might be helpful to clarify is that, like, the connected part of true fun, which is that you're enjoying something, and you're enjoying it with other people or with another person where you're connected to them.

PRICE: So one of the pillars of what I call true fun is this feeling of connection. And I do think it's possible to have fun alone. There's plenty of people who have told me stories of having fun alone. So I think you can feel this sense of connection with the activity that you're doing. You can have this sense of connection with your physical body. But when I asked people around the world to share these stories of fun with me, most of them had another person or another creature involved. So I've got a whole list in my book of these fun factors, as I call them. And some of them are things like physicality. You know, some people love physical activities. Other people, that's an anti-fun factor for them - music, nature, different size groups, like being in a small, intimate group, a bigger group. And I think it's kind of - if I may say, kind of fun to think about, to kind of break down your own experiences and figure out why because it just gives you more ideas.

FURLAN: This book basically leads the reader through looking at their life and thinking about the things that bring them into that state of playful, connected flow. How do you do a fun audit?

PRICE: First of all, let me acknowledge that a fun audit sounds very unfun. But the idea of a fun audit, in my defense, is really an opportunity to kind of evaluate your present existence and figure out how much fun you are currently or are currently not having and try to hone in a bit more onto what are the situations in which you typically have the most fun. What brings you, personally, into a state of playful, connected flow or what is the most...

FURLAN: Right.

PRICE: ...Likely to do that for you? Because once you do understand the magnets and the fun factors that are most likely to lead you into fun, that's when you turn fun from an abstract, nebulous concept into something you actually can prioritize. You can plan for fun.

FURLAN: Right. A question that I'd love to answer is, like, what are people getting wrong about fun?

PRICE: The idea that fun is frivolous when it is not frivolous at all. It can help connect us with other people. It helps connect us with our own lives. It helps us feel alive. So that's, you know, one of the biggest things we get wrong about fun, that it's frivolous, or that we don't deserve to have it, when in fact, it's enormously important and we do deserve to have it. But I would say that in terms of one thing we get wrong about fun or that we don't think of is that it's good not just for our mental health but also for our physical health.

And just to highlight two ways in which that's true. One is fun's effects on our feelings of loneliness and isolation, which is to say it helps overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation, that we feel connected with other people and not alone when we're having fun. That's a really big deal because loneliness and isolation are enormously, hugely bad for our physical health. Another way that fun helps us is by reducing stress. Anything we can do that reduces our baseline stress levels is going to be good for us physically. And fun is a very relaxed state. It's simultaneously energizing but also very rejuvenating. So I think it's just fascinating to think about fun as being a health intervention.

SHAPIRO: That was Catherine Price, author of "The Power Of Fun," speaking with NPR Life Kit's Julia Furlan. And if having more fun is one of your New Year's resolutions, check out Life Kit's resolution planner. The tool helps you mix and match more than 40 ideas, including tips to tap into your creativity or travel better with friends. You can find that at npr.org/newyears. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julia Furlan
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