1. Flex Your Fun Muscle
By Mary Turner
After a series of challenging life events over the past few years, I forgot what fun is. That can happen as you get older, as work stress, health concerns, the loss of loved ones, and the effects of an ongoing pandemic pile up. Soon enough, your fun meter gets out of whack. Or disappears entirely. Recently, I decided to find mine again.
But first I needed to better understand what my idea of fun really is, because it’s different for everyone. For some, it’s climbing tall mountains and paddling big rapids; for others, it’s laughing around a fire pit with friends and a good IPA. I took an informal poll about fun on Facebook, and the answers ranged from surfing to Citi Biking to dancing and singing to just seeing friends in person again. (Surprising note: a disproportionate number of responders cited pickleball.)
The notion of what’s fun for me has changed throughout life. In college it leaned toward parties and nights out with friends. Later it became about adventure, like cycling across the U.S. Later still it involved travel, exploring other countries to find empty surf breaks and the coziest off-the-beaten-path cafés.
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I began reading medical studies about how fun is good for you, helping with everything from depression to the production of feel-good neurotransmitters. Along the way I discovered Michael Rucker, a psychologist and behavioral scientist who has a book coming out in June called The Fun Habit. Rucker explains on his website that fun, unlike happiness, is an action, something we can actually pursue. In other words, we can flex—and strengthen—our fun muscle. So I tried. This required practicing spontaneity (something I suck at) and setting aside an endless list of undone chores.
I sought out kids and animals first, because they seem to know instinctively how to have fun. For instance, the other day I came upon a steep icy patch on a trail. My immediate thought was, Don’t fall. The boy behind me, however, sped up and slid down it with glee. See what I mean?
To get in the same spirit, I played Ping-Pong with my ten-year-old friend Fiona, who served by hitting the ball against the wall, ricocheting it back onto the table. It was impossible to ruminate on my worries while she laughed hysterically as I ran all over the place trying to return her serve. Next I hiked with a friend and her corgi puppy—named Wally!—and felt pure joy watching him waddle his rear end down the trail like he owned it. One afternoon I acted like a tourist in my own town, visiting coffee shops and stores I’ve never made time to go to and connecting with business owners. My fun tank was filling up.
I talked over my quest with my partner, Dave, who always seems to be having fun. For him, that usually involves skiing and mountain biking. At our local ski hill, he often rides the chairlift with young kids, showing them where to find hidden chutes. They arrive at the bottom with ear-to-ear grins. Dave is also at the bike park a couple of times a week learning new tricks. “It’s so fun to get some flight time,” he says. “There’s nothing like it. It’s just magical.”
I’m a novice mountain biker, but one day I went in search of flight time with Dave. I hit a small jump and was in the air for, well, maybe three seconds—but I was in the air! It was fun. The most fun was seeing Dave’s ecstatic face when I landed safely.
The more I use my fun muscle, the stronger it gets. Next up: pickleball.