EarnWork-Life Balance

How To Have Fun At Work (No, Seriously)

Kristen Campbell  |  September 12, 2022

Prioritizing fun and play can improve your personal and professional life. Here’s why, along with advice on how to get started.

You exercise, eat healthy and drink plenty of water. A responsible soul, you’ve even been known to read IKEA instructions and on occasion, assorted fine print. But when did you last have fun, much less prioritize it?

If you’re scouring your memory to answer the first question and are rolling your eyes a little at the latter, this story’s for you. (Also, if you’re an employer looking to retain or energize staff, take note.)

For starters, a definition: “True Fun” is “the confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow,” Catherine Price writes in  “The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again.” There, she makes a powerful case to prioritize fun, sharing her own experiences as well as offering guidance about how to find fun for yourself.

Price, founder of ScreenLifeBalance.com and author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone,” notes that when you’re having fun, you’re totally present. That means, she says, “you’re not ruminating about the past and you’re not anxious about the future, which likely means that you’re not suffering from this kind of chronically elevated cortisol that many of us are experiencing.”

The more she started to put together research from other disciplines, Price says she was astonished how much seemed to relate to fun, how many aspects of our lives fun seems it can positively affect and how much that stands in contrast to our typical assumption that fun is frivolous. 

“Anything we can do that reduces stress and fosters social connection is going to be good for us, not just mentally but physically,” she says, noting the idea that having fun is a health intervention blows her mind.

But infusing fun into your life isn’t as straightforward as replacing a cheeseburger with a salad. So here’s some expert advice to help you get started – and keep going. 

  • Remember when. Reflect on experiences – recent or long past – that you would describe, as Price puts it, “so fun.” A conversation could have been really fun, she says, or a water balloon fight when you were 16; don’t think that it needs to be deep or profound, she says. 
  • Pay attention. Try to notice moments in which you feel some combination of playfulness, connection or flow,” says Price, recommending keeping a journal in which to record such moments. “If you experience two of them, make a note of it,” she says. “If you experience all three, definitely make a note of it. And then just notice what themes emerge.” 

The goal, she says, is to figure out what she calls “fun magnets” – a personal collection of people, activities and settings that tend to generate fun. 

A benefit of breaking fun into these three parts is that if you start to notice and look for moments of playfulness, connection and flow, you’ll probably realize they’re happening more often than you give yourself credit for, Price says. The benefit in defining and naming it is that then you can appreciate what’s already happening, she says, adding that you can then come up with more ideas for ways to create it or “set the stage for fun.”

Stuart Brown, MD, founder of the National Institute for Play and author of “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” with Christopher Vaughan, encourages reflection as well. He notes that a lot of us don’t really look at what really engages us joyfully, beginning with what we’re like as children and from then on, and to link our current joyful times with our natural predilection, our “play personality.” 

  • Stay open. When you’ve identified something that will likely be fun for you, Price says, put that activity on your calendar with an open spirit. “It’s like an experiment,” she says, adding that if the experience didn’t feel nourishing or fun, you don’t need to do it.
  • Prioritize fun and play. When you have identified what gives you a sense of fun, joyfulness and purpose, Brown says to prioritize that every day, recognizing it as important as a good night’s sleep or good nutrition. This is a fundamental part of human well-being inherited from our predecessors, Brown says, noting that “it enables us to cope with the very difficult, very challenging world.” (Read about the impact of a play-filled life versus one that’s play-deprived here.) 

While there’s a lot individuals can and should do to cultivate fun for themselves, companies can also get in on the act.

Employers have to help employees reduce distraction and protect their time and their ability to focus, says Price, suggesting better guidelines to help employees actually take a break when they’re not supposed to be engaged with the office. 

“Anything that distracts you is going to kick you out of flow, and you can’t have fun if you’re not in flow,” says Price, adding that flow is your most productive state. “So from the employer’s purely practical business standpoint, you’re actually destroying people’s ability to do good work.” 

Companies could also create more opportunities for people to have fun together,; the result of that fun, Price says, will result in a feeling of community and caring not only about one’s colleagues, but the company itself.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for more resources, Price offers a 14-day course to help you Find Your Fun ($19.99) as well as the “30-Day Phone Break Up Challenge” ($29.99). You can also sign up for her free newsletter here.

“I stumbled into this,” Price says, “and it really has changed my life and changed my approach to life and made my everyday existence much more satisfying.”

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