3 elements of true fun -- and how to have more of it | Catherine Price - Transcripts

March 13, 2023

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3 elements of true fun -- and how to have more of it | Catherine Price


Hey, Celise Hugh, you're listening to TED Talks Daily. When we have fun, what makes fun fun? And how do we have more of it? Katherine Price has become an expert on fun, especially because it has such power in elevating not only our individual lives, but also entire communities. In this 2022 TED membership conversation with TED's science curator, David Bielo, Price

takes his questions and the audiences about why we should take fun more seriously. At Morgan Stanley, we see the world with the wonder of new eyes, helping you discover untapped possibilities and relentlessly working with you to make them real. Because grit and vision working in lockstep puts you on the path to your full potential.

Old school grit, new world ideas, Morgan Stanley. To learn more, visit MorganStanley.com slash WhyUs. Investing involves risk. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC.

Hi, David.

Hi, David.

Hello. And hello, everyone. I think we need to start with the question that some of them may have seen on their screen already.

What is fun? You might think that we all know what fun is, but I found it really interesting in my research to realize that the way we use fun in our everyday speech, which at least in English is very casual, we kind of toss around this word. It's really different from the feeling you get from people if you ask them about a memory from their own lives in which they had the most fun. And as part of the research for my book, I did that I asked people from all around the world, they see we have a ton of people from all around the world, even in this webinar. So the answers I got were very international. And it was really interesting, because even though obviously people's individual experiences were different, there was this energy running through them. That was very much the same and when I read through these answers, and I've got 1000s of these by now, I found myself smiling, but also almost tearing up a lot of times. There was something really powerful about what people were sharing with me. They went way beyond this light hearted pleasure sense with which we often use the word. So I ended up coming up with the definition based on these stories people were sharing with me and then running it by them to see if it accurately described what they had told me. So I tried to validate it. And it is that when we have these moments of what I think of as true fun, it's the confluence of three states.

And those are playfulness, connection and flow. And so if you think of the Venn diagram with three circles in the center, you have true fun and you have playfulness, connection and flow. And just to clarify, cause people can freak out in particular about playfulness, adults really get uncomfortable with playfulness. It means just having a light hearted attitude. You can just be lighthearted, not care too much about the outcome of what you're doing. Let go of your perfectionism. Connection refers to having a special shared experience. And I do think some people can have fun on their own as I say in my TED talk, but it was really interesting because most of the stories people told me involved other people. And when I asked people, what surprised you about what you just told me, a number of people said something along the lines of, I'm an introvert, but everything I just told you involved other people. So in the majority of situations, another person is involved. And then flow is the psychological state where we get so wrapped up in what we're doing, actively engaged in what we're doing that we can lose track of time. So an athlete playing a game is the most quintessential example.

All three of those states are great on their own, but I believe when you experience all three at once,

that's what I call true fun. So to the adult question of why we lose playfulness, well, I think some of it is because fun can seem maybe frivolous in a very serious world and the world is quite serious,

but why is it important to have fun? Thanks for asking that question, David, because that is a common misperception people have about fun is that it is frivolous or that there's so many serious things going on in the world, how could we possibly think about fun? So a couple of things I would say to that, first of all, life is not zero sum. So I don't see why you can't be someone who cares about the serious issues in the world and also cares about fun. And also a lot of what we do when we say we're caring about serious issues is really kind of meaningless and just torturing ourselves. If you read the same news article that makes you upset six times in an hour, you haven't actually helped anybody. And the same thing if you've posted a rant on social media or gotten an argument or just worked yourself up or essentially yelled at someone on Twitter that didn't actually help anybody and it's very draining. So what I find about fun is that when we actually have, my point being here is that fun can actually help us work to solve some of those problems. And the reason I say that is that, first of all, when you have enough fun yourself, it actually fills up your own reserves, it builds your resilience and your energy. And that will give you the energy to do something more productive than just yell at people via your phone's social media accounts. But then also if you actually have fun with other people and you've connected with them as human beings, so if we're able to have fun with each other, we can connect in a way that then helps us work together to actually solve some of those problems. And then I would also say fun isn't frivolous even if the world was great and there weren't any problems.

Fun itself is not frivolous because fun, and I'm happy to go into more detail if anyone wants more detail, but it's actually really important not just for our mental health, but also for our physical health because of the way it reduces our stress levels and also provides us with a sense

social connection. Yeah, fun is good for your health. I think that's the important thing to remember. But as you pointed out, we shouldn't get too wrapped up, maybe an anxiety about whether we're having enough fun. You also talk about something called fake fun. What's that?

So fake fun is a term I came up with to describe products and services that are marketed to us as fun, but that aren't actually fun in the sense that they don't actually produce playfulness, connection or flow. The biggest culprit here is definitely social media and kind of these or, you know, watching passive consumption past the point of enjoyment. So if you're watching your favorite show for a couple of episodes, great. But if you're like in that zone where you're actually completely hypnotized and it's seven hours of past and you feel disgusting about yourself and your life, you've fallen into the trap of fake fun. So I see it as there being actually three categories. You've got true fun, the playful connected flow, you've got fake fun, which is essentially the junk food of our leisure time that ends us. It's very appealing, but it leaves us feeling disgusting about ourselves. There's a big middle category of stuff that's truly enjoyable, but that wouldn't necessarily qualify as true fun by the definition I've proposed. And that would be things like reading, you know, or like taking a bath or watching your favorite TV show up to the point where it's still enjoyable. To me, those are all legitimate great uses of your leisure time, even if they're not fun, because you know you actually enjoy them. And the reason I think it's important to divide, I mean, to think so intellectually about fun is that it helps us become much more intentional about how we use our leisure time. So if you're able to identify sources of fake fun in your life, it's actually really easy to eliminate those once you kind of cognitively recognize that that you know it's a waste of time.

And if you're like, oh yeah, this is actually enjoyable, go for it. And then if it's likely to generate true fun, I would suggest putting it on the top of your priority list because it's such a

wonderfully nourishing state. Ted member Don and Stefania are, you know, feel slightly overwhelmed by their lives and have trouble even thinking of what fun feels like. If you've forgotten

what fun feels like, how do you find it again? One of the things I recommend people do to start is to think back on a moment of true fun from your own life, a moment that you describe as quote, so fun. That was the term I came up with when I was asking people this question. Don't worry, it can actually take a little bit of time to tune into those experiences, but it can assure you we've all had them. They don't need to be dramatic. It's not, this is another misconception we have about fun, that it only can happen in exotic locales, or when you're somehow outside of your quote, normal life, or that it costs a lot of money. None of that is true. If you define it as playful, connected flow, you'll start to recognize that you can have even tiny moments of fun all the time. And the reason you want to call to mind one of these experiences is that as you begin to think of more of them, so I encourage you to try to think of more than one and it will become easier as you start thinking of them to call out some themes and see, huh, are there any particular people who are often involved? Are there any activities that are involved? Are there any settings that seem conducive to fun? Because if you've seen my TED talk, you know that I believe that fun is a feeling and it's not an activity.

By which I mean that I think too often we start to think. Like if I asked you guys what's fun? Just at the beginning of this conversation, you might start to give me a list of activities that you enjoy. It's like cooking's fun, or reading's fun, or whatever. But the activity itself is not fun. It's the feeling of fun. Like you can love dinner parties and have the exact same group of people over for dinner and eat the exact same thing. And one night it's going to be really fun, and one night it's not going to be fun. So it's the feeling that results. So the point of calling out these settings and these people and these activities that are often associated with fun for you is not to guarantee that you can have fun if you're with them, but to set the scene for it to make it more likely that fun will occur and result. I think about it like romance, if you can set the scene for it, but if you try too hard, it's going to run away. Right.

So, we're trying to light candles for fun. But I call the settings and the people and the activities are fun magnets and each of us has a collection that is unique to us. You know, my husband's fun magnets are not necessarily the same as mine. We have some that we share with some that are different, And the point is just to become more cognizant of what those things are. So again, you can become more intentional about how you choose to spend your leisure time. I also created a whole acronym in the book and like a framework that's called Spark, which I'm happy to go through, but I'll just end up talking straight for half an hour if I go down that route. So David, you can choose, but I'd start with that. Try to identify past memories of fun, call out or look for themes, and then prioritize those people

and activities and settings. Well, let's talk about Spark a little bit because in looking through the chat, I mean, that's why we ask for the moments of delight. It's a moment for people to reflect and think about something that was probably pretty fun. If it delighted you, it was probably pretty fun. So tell us a little bit more about the importance

of noticing and this whole Spark method. So the first step in Spark, the S, actually stands for make space because we do need to clear out some space for fun. If you're feeling constantly overwhelmed, you're probably gonna feel like you can't even begin this process. What I recommend that people start with in terms of clearing space is to begin with the biggest source of distraction for most of us these days, which is our phones and our digital devices. Before the pandemic, the average person in America was spending upwards of four hours a day just on their phones. So not their tablets, not their computers, not their TVs, just their phones, which is a quarter of your waking life, and it adds up to 60 full days a year. When you think about it that way, like sure, some of that time is useful and productive and perhaps essential, but there's also a lot of it that's just a kind of frittering away of time, the fake fun that we're talking about. And if you're able to create better boundaries with your devices and more of what I call screen life balance, you're gonna end up with more free time that you then can devote towards pursuing fun. So another way to create space is actually to think about your commitments and see which ones you could say no to. Like for example, I used to volunteer on my daughter's preschool board, and then at some point I'm like, the school's fine, I'm not adding to it and I'm not enjoying the meetings, that's why I quit. And it cleared up a lot of space. Also giving yourself a permission slip is huge in terms of making space.

A lot of people think that they don't deserve fun, that they are too many other priorities. They're taking care of other people. Their needs are at the bottom of the list, so I've actually had people say that they have written out an actual permission slip for themselves and signed it. So if that's your deal, do it, I think it's actually really important whether it's a literal permission slip or a mental one. Then the P is to pursue passions and hobbies and interests, the more interest you have and the more skills and knowledge you have, the more interesting your life will be, first of all, but also the more portals into playful, connected flow you'll find. And the thing that sparked that idea for me was the book, Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who was the psychologist who coined the term flow. And in his book, he made this comment that really stood out to me, which was that to someone who doesn't play chess, a chessboard is just a board with some carved figurines. Honestly, that's what it still is to me. But if you know how to play chess, if you put in the work to learn to play chess, it becomes a portal into flow. And I would argue into fun. But the idea is just get out there, try something new, do something new, get up off your couch. It might take a bit to get over your inertia at first, but it is worth it.

So that's the P is the pursue passions. The A of Spark is for attract fun, because you probably have noticed there's certain people in your life who just seem to have more fun than you and you might not know why. You might think it's, you have fun too, David. This guy just, just look at him. Having lots of fun. But when I ask people in my research, I straight up ask them, describe someone in your life whom you consider a quote, fun person, and then tell me like, what about them makes them fun? And even I thought that that'd get a lot of really stereotypical responses. They're extroverts or the lives of the party or they're, you know, the class clowns. There were some of those, but it was so interesting because a lot of people said things like they make everyone feel very comfortable in their presence or they laugh very easily at other people's jokes or stories, or they go along with things. You know, they go with the flow. And it really stood out to me because the traits they were describing were not necessarily associated with extroversion. So you can be an introvert and make someone feel comfortable.

I think in some cases introverts are better at tuning into that. And also a lot of them were trainable. You can get better at those skills. So I got really interested in the idea of how do we become people who attract more fun. And I think what I just described are three ways to do so. Another is to switch yourself into what I think of as a fun mindset, which is a fun-oriented twist on Carol Dweck's growth mindset. And the idea there is that our default mode, our brain's default mode, is naturally going to be to focus on things that cause us anxiety and fear. For the simple reason that that's evolutionarily how we avoid threats. You want to be scanning the horizon for threats, otherwise you could get killed or eaten or something. So it actually takes work to switch yourself to focus on the positive. And I think that the more you do so, the more likely you are to notice the moments of playful connected flow and to create more opportunities for it. So if you can start to begin to deliberately pay more attention to the delight in the world instead of going with the natural tendency to focus on sources of anxiety and fear, it really will get you into a mindset that's much more conducive.

The R in Spark may be my favorite. It is for rebel. Not like get yourself in jail rebellion to clarify. But when I was reading through people's anecdotes, there was this repeated theme of the playful deviance is what I'll call it, breaking the rules just like a little bit. I mean, skinny dipping would be an example of that. But even someone who said that they had snuck into a pool with them, you know, at night, I think fully clothed with like a laundry basket and some pool noodles. I don't know. And like they had a great time or really anything. Like if you normally listen to educational podcasts, maybe you can drive around in your car and turn off the podcast and the news and just like blast a song you love when you were 17 and sing along and, you know, or just take a little break from your workday to do something that will bring you a sense of delight. So rebellion and if you can't think of a way to do that, I think it's also kind of fun to think about ways to do something delightful for somebody else. Way to do something that's going to surprise them. Maybe this is a little bit separate, but I find that that can be a way.

If you're still thinking, I can't think of something to do in my own life. Do something to delight someone else. And then lastly, the K of Spark is keep at it, which basically means that fun is much like exercise. That you're not going to do it once and then that's it, you're done. You actually have to keep prioritizing it because life is going to keep throwing, like not fun things your way. And unless you're working to keep that as a priority, you're just, you're not gonna, it's not going to be a priority. And the way that I personally think about approaching that is in terms of what I call micro doses and then booster shots. So if you know that there's something small, a little micro dose that you could work into your schedule regularly, that you enjoy that might lead to playful connected flow like a regular coffee date or a walk with a friend who you've realized is a fun magnet for you. Or in my case, like my weekly guitar class is definitely regular micro doses. Build that into your schedule, carve out the time for it. And then a booster shot would be something that takes more time, more energy, maybe more money, although again, fun doesn't necessarily require money. But if you know that every time you get together with this particular group of friends, it's just outrageously fun, then like actually go to the work of organizing and figuring out how to get childcare and whatever so you can spend time with them.

And I think that if you can sprinkle these micro doses and booster shots into your life regularly, you will build the framework

for a life that is conducive to fun and interest.

Yes. So one of the things that I found fun in your book is that you called for a fun audit, which David, I think that sounds incredibly unfun. I'm saying it sounds like an oxymoron, right? But actually, a fun audit can be a good thing to do if you're feeling stuck. So tell us

about a fun audit. The fun audit involves looking, reviewing your own life and just noticing how much fun you are or are not having, scanning through your leisure activities and identifying those sources of fake fun that we're talking about, but you can begin to reduce or eliminate them. And then very importantly, figuring out some activities or something to do to replace the

time that you were spending on the time sucking fake fun. But it is a struggle for some folks and Kat wants to know how we can create fun while grappling with things like climate change or nuclear war or all the other, frankly, existential threats that are out there in the world.

But I think it's really important. I think a lot of people feel that way, and then we do get consumed and the media landscape is designed to make us feel that way. That's another thing to acknowledge is that not only are our brains naturally primed to notice those things, but, you know, there's an expression in journalism, if it bleeds, it leads. Like you never open up your favorite newspaper and see an article about how there's a real explosion in puppies. Like there's nothing that doesn't happen. So I think also being more judicious about what you allow into your brain, because, I mean, anytime you pick up your phone, I think of it as a Pandora's box of emotions, it's going to result in an emotion. What emotion is that going to be? And do you want that in your brain? Right. If you check the news, it's going to have an impact on your mental state. If you check your email, if you check social media, I'm not saying I know what that reaction is going to be for you, but there is going to be one. So as an example, I used to have the news app on my phone, and I would find myself reading the same articles again and again, hoping something would have changed, which it didn't, then I realized, I'm not going to have the news app on my phone.

think about notifications as interruptions, because that's really what they're doing. They'd have to just ask yourself what you want to be interrupted for, because notifications are there for the benefit of the people making the app that sends you the notification, it's not for you. I think that many of us feel very, very trapped in this feeling that the world is dark and horrible and that we're powerless, and that's a horrible place to be. And I think it takes a lot of work to bring yourself out of that, but it's worth it.

And it actually is good for trying to address some of those things. I think fun is probably best shared, as you noted earlier. Any tips on how to share fun with the folks in our lives? I think Jim wanted to know that.

Well, I think picking the right people is important. There's certain people that really are not conducive to fun. And hopefully you can help them to change, right? But as a first step, if you know, if you have the choice between hanging out with someone who consistently makes you feel comfortable and you enjoy being in the presence of and generates fun, versus someone who's a wet blanket, pick that one, right? Again, I talked about doing things together. I think that things like cooking a meal together or trying something new together or seeing if your friends want to go to a class together or all those things are very conducive to opening people up in a way that helps people have fun. I think also trying to find people who are already having fun and joining that group.

I want to thank all the members for coming. I also want to apologize for not getting to all of your questions, but the time just kind of flew by because we were having fun. So thank you. Thank you very much for joining us today. And go have some fun.

Thanks, David. You too.