In the 1980 horror film, The Shining, Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, types out the proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I still cringe and get goosebumps thinking about the classic Stanley Kubrick movie. But here’s the thing… there’s an incredible amount of truth to that axiom.
Researcher Stuart Brown did a study on 26 male murderers in the 1960s. Brown and his colleagues found that each of the study’s subjects experienced something called play depravation in their childhood – meaning their childhoods were incredibly traumatic and devoid of adequate playtime.
As a result, none of these men developed appropriate coping mechanisms. Instead, they learned to use violence in an attempt to control their surroundings.
However, here at Health & Wealth Bulletin we’re about solving life’s challenges… while having fun especially. The problem is that adults aren’t great at having fun.
As children, we spend our time running around outside with friends, playing games, and using our imaginations. When we grow up, however, something tends to shift in us… It’s deemed less acceptable for adults to be playful and zany. Adults are supposed to be serious and much too busy to have a fun every day.
But science tells us that we need fun in adulthood because it’s good for our health. Fun keeps us young.
Fun is subjective. What is fun for me (riding my bike, for example) may not be fun for you.
Typically, fun exists in a space where there are little to no outwardly imposed rules… Part of the point of fun is to get creative and make up your own rules.
Fun’s benefit can largely be attributed to something called the pleasure pathway. This is the circuit of neurons that release the chemical messenger dopamine in the brain in response to enjoyable experiences. Dopamine makes us feel good and for that reason, we become more likely to repeat – or seek out – whatever behavior led to the release of dopamine.
The pursuit of pleasure, called hedonism, has been embraced throughout history. We see it in ancient Greece with philosophers like Epicurus, who believed the greatest good was to seek modest and sustainable pleasure. We also see hedonism in the teachings of the Buddha, who taught his followers how to find bliss through nonattachment.
Here are three important reasons why you need more fun in your life, according to science…
No. 1: Fun Reduces Stress and Balances Our Hormones
Fun acts as a natural stress reliever, because let’s face it… you can’t be too stressed out if you’re having a good time.
When our bodies and minds are stressed, we release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline to help us cope. In small doses, this is very effective. However, prolonged stress can wreak havoc on the body and lead to disease and dysfunction.
When we relax our systems by having fun, our hormones naturally balance themselves out. This switch into the parasympathetic nervous system’s “rest-and-digest” state turns off the production of cortisol and adrenaline. It also switches on the release of hormones like dopamine and serotonin, which allow us to feel good and quell anxiety.
No. 2: Fun Makes Us Smarter
Memory and concentration are two aspects of our intelligence that get better when we have fun. This is great news, because studies show that both short-term and long-term memory tends to decline with age. Engaging in activities that utilize your concentration – like crossword puzzles or sudoku, for example – sharpens your ability… and the same goes for memory.
Fun also improves our language and math skills. This was discovered by a British cohorts study of 17,000 people born in England, Scotland, and Wales during the same week in 1970. The results were correlated with instances of reading for pleasure in childhood. Effectively, those who read more as kids for fun showed higher math and language skills.
No. 3: Fun Improves Our Relationships
Having fun with others builds trust, improves communication skills, and provides opportunities to socially bond. This is true in both our work lives and in our personal lives. In fact, many of our nation’s most successful companies (like Google, REI, Warby Parker, Squarespace, and Facebook) incorporate fun into the workplace.
Having fun with others also highlights our vulnerability, which is great because that makes us more approachable to others who might subconsciously be intimidated by us.
Clinical social worker and bestselling author Brené Brown has made a very lucrative career out of studying vulnerability and encouraging us to embrace our vulnerabilities as strengths. In her highly recommended (by my researcher) book Daring Greatly, Brown describes showing vulnerability as courageous and explains how vulnerability is at the core of all feelings – both good and bad.
So as you can see, having fun is incredibly important to our health and wellbeing. Just in case you need a little help getting started, here are a few ways you can start having more fun today:
- Create a new set of rules to a favorite game or hobby.
- Make it a goal to laugh at something different every hour.
- Do something silly to try and make someone else laugh… Laughter is quite contagious, you know. I once serenaded my office to the tune of the Jonas Brothers.
- Invent some new jokes and try them out on a friend.
- Take an outdoor adventure to a place you’ve never been before.
- Listen to your favorite music while exercising.
- Make a piece of art as a gift to brighten up someone else’s day.
- Pick up a new hobby you’ve been dying to try.
- Treat yourself to a relaxing facial, pedicure, or massage.
- Create a “bucket list” of things you’ve always wanted to try and start doing them.
These are just a few examples of how you can decide to transform any typical day into one that’s a little bit more enjoyable. And remember, fun is subjective, so I expect you can think of a few great ideas that are geared specifically to your own brand of enjoyment.
We’d love to hear some of your ideas for fun so we can test them out ourselves. Send us a list of some of your top choices for fun, and we’ll tell you how we do once we try them out. Our e-mail is [email protected].
What We’re Interneting…
- Brené Brown’s TED Talk on the power of vulnerability (video).
- Something different: Why sweat is a human superpower.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 3, 2021