A recent article by April Fulton that appeared on NPR.org, “Here’s why you should make a habit of having more fun,” addresses the idea that when we are pursuing happiness, which our Declaration of Independence tells us is our right, we may end up feeling we are chronically falling short and actually end up depressed over not achieving it. We might have an expectation that we are always supposed to feel that way in order to be successful. However, if we pursue having fun, we have a lot more control over the outcome. Happiness is a feeling, a state, whereas having fun is an action, it is more tangible, and more within our power to create.
Two recent books, The Fun Habit: How The Disciplined Pursuit of Joy And Wonder Can Change Your Life, by psychologist Mike Rucker, and The Power of Fun by science journalist Catherine Price, really make the case for pursuing fun for the sheer joy of fun. Pursuing fun helps reduce stress and decrease the time spent trying to escape: for example, being online for hours, drinking, emotional eating, and shopping. Ms. Fulton states that research has shown moments of fun can improve mood and lower stress levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
So what is fun? That is personal to each one of us. As children, we naturally turned to play, whether inside or outside. Every one of our ages happened in this body and yes, the child parts are all there but are sometimes not let out to play, be silly, giggle, etc. once we are adults. If we can pause, put aside our phones, and allow for some space, we might connect with that inner child part and come up with some ideas about what might be fun. It is so worth it to take the time to think of things you may have enjoyed in the past or have always wanted to try because it looked fun, whether it be something social or by oneself.
When we are having fun we tend to laugh more often. And when we laugh? According to the Mayo Clinic* it does wonders for us in many ways with short term and long term health benefits:
Short-term benefitsA good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can: • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.• Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.• Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Long-term effectsLaughter isn't just a quick pick-me-up, though. It's also good for you over the long term. Laughter may: • Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.• Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.• Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.• Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your stress, depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier. It can also improve your self-esteem.*
And that pursuit of happiness? For most of us, if we are genuinely smiling and laughing, we are more likely to experience that sometimes elusive state of happiness.In the article on NPR.org, the ideas for fun that people came up with included unusual things like creating enormous bubbles. “NPR listener Rachel Maryam Smith fell in love with making giant soap bubbles when she was in college. She soon started making them in public, eventually hosting events with up to 300 people. She loves that bubbles put a smile on everyone's face.” (From NPR.org article )
Other people have cited • learning to play the ukulele • taking flying trapeze classes• going on hikes• zip-lining• going to comedy clubs• meeting a friend for coffee• joining a group with a shared interest such as knitting• listening to live music• doing handstands• joining people for games from mahjong to charades
…arts and crafts, activities with animals, interacting with human and animal babies, things that we might have once enjoyed, never have tried, or never even knew about. The list is endless.
What is fun for you? What brings you joy? What are you curious about?Do you prefer to do things alone or with others, or a combination of both?
How to find things? Try your local library or your local high school district adult learning for classes. Often these are free. Online searches can also connect you to a world of opportunities. You might find group meet-ups for people with shared interests or to look into any other activities in your area.
Making this an intention in your life can lead to connecting with new people who share the same interest and who experience fun in the same activity. Research has shown that when we smile it can brighten our mood. You might have to push yourself out of your comfort zone but listen to yourself, find what you feel works for you, and have fun.
*https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456- Barbara Howard, LCPC