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What is true fun?

When you hear the word “fun,” what initially comes to mind? You might be thinking a wide range of things, such as “it’s frivolous,” “I don’t have time for it,” or “what even is fun?” If that’s you right now, don’t worry. As we get older, it seems like we experience it less and forget what it feels like. On top of that, definitions of and research on fun have been difficult to find over the years, leading to the concept being misunderstood or devalued. That is until author Catherine Price explored the topic in her recent book “The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again.”

Through her work, Price describes true fun as the “magical confluence of playfulness, connection and flow.” In other words, when these three elements are present at the same time, you’re likely experiencing a moment of true fun. While it is a subjective experience, meaning what is true fun for me may not be true fun for you, there are some indicators that it is indeed a moment of true fun. These include laughter, a sense of freedom, losing track of time, or feeling your authentic self.

Price clarifies the concept further by also defining fake fun. She says these are the activities or items often sold to us as fun that, after an initial jolt of pleasure, often end up leaving us feeling unfulfilled or empty. Think of these as things like binge-watching shows, endlessly social media scrolling, or that closet full of items we thought would spark joy but just collect dust now (guilty!).

Why does seeking more true fun matter?

First, it helps us flourish. Many of us learned a new term throughout the pandemic: languish. You may have even felt this over the course of the last two years. This is the feeling of stagnation and emptiness, where you’re a little more joyless or aimless than usual. It’s definitely not fun. Flourishing, on the other hand, is when you have a strong sense of joy, connectedness, mastery and engagement. That does sound like fun.

Seeking more true fun can also help improve our mental and emotional health, reduce loneliness and, as the book title suggests, feel more alive. Price even says that the pursuit of true fun can cultivate happiness. Because happiness is an outcome, it creates what she describes as a “blueprint for happiness.” Pursuing true fun shifts our focus from the more passive state of wanting to be happy to an active experience characterized by wanting to have more fun. This can then become a self-fulfilling cycle: fun leads to happiness, happiness leads to more fun, and so on.

What about playfulness, connection and flow individually?

While seeking more true fun matters, experiencing true fun isn’t always easy or predictable. Fortunately, playfulness, connection and flow have been researched more extensively over the years and have been shown to be beneficial in their own right. Because each is a worthwhile pursuit, let’s break them down individually.

Playfulness, as Price defines it, is “a spirit of lightheartedness and freedom—of doing an activity just for the sake of doing the activity and not caring about the outcome.” This means that the activity doesn’t matter all that much. Any activity could become playful with the right spirit, which gives it the ability to pull us out of the mundane or get us back in touch with who we really are. Playfulness can also help aid in decision-making and emotional regulation, thereby improving our mental and emotional health. At work, playfulness can even boost creativity, motivation and focus.

Connection is “the feeling of having a special, shared experience with someone (or something) else.” Research shows how connections are a critical component of our health and well-being. For example, feelings of loneliness or isolation have been compared to the negative effects of physical inactivity, smoking 15 cigarettes a day and alcoholism. A long-running study from Harvard has found that those with the strongest relationships live longer, report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction and have less cognitive decline over time. In the workplace, connections can improve productivity, kickstart innovation, and reduce the risk of experiencing burnout.

Flow is what Price calls “a state of total engagement, in which you are so engrossed in the activity at hand that you lose track of time.” Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has researched this state of peak experience extensively, which he says is characterized by focused and effortless attention, a clear mind and feelings of complete control and mind-body unison. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi has even gone as far as stating that flow might just be the secret to a happy life—a concept that shares similarities to the Japanese concept of ikigai or the French raison d'être. It has the ability to ground and rejuvenate us, induce good feelings, and reduce our fear of failure. Its benefits in the workplace include improvements in our quality of work and problem-solving while helping bring more meaning to the work we do.

As you can see, seeking more fun is not a frivolous distraction. Catherine Price put it this way: “True Fun isn’t just a result of human thriving; it’s a cause.” So think of the pursuit of playfulness, connection and flow, both individually AND collectively, as a profound solution for feeling more alive at work and home.

Learn More

Looking for guidance on how to seek more true fun through playfulness, connection and flow? Start here.

Want to further explore these concepts? I recommend reading “The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again” by Catherine Price, listening to the three-episode series on the “Becoming Wildly Resilient” podcast, and checking out these opportunities to “(re)Discover Your Spark” from May 9-27, 2022.