CHASTENED by the sight of her newborn baby’s face lit up by the blue light of her phone, Catherine Price set about limiting the time she spent in front of screens. The journalist and her husband stopped mindlessly scrolling on social media and started taking 24-hour “digital sabbaths”.
By cutting down on her screen time, Price found that she had gained hours in her day – but now, she struggled to know how to pass them. What was missing from her life, she realised, was fun. But what was fun, if not bingeing on Netflix and playing games on her phone?
Price has form in turning “personal issues into professional projects”. Her previous book, 2018’s How to Break Up With Your Phone, was the result of her attempts to quell her overuse. With that problem more or less in hand, she decided to investigate what fun was, so that she could fill her life with more of it. The result is The Power of Fun, a practical guide with lessons for all of us, especially as we live through a decidedly not-fun pandemic.
This new book is a kind of spiritual sequel to How to Break Up With Your Phone, providing answers to the question of how to replace an all-encompassing habit.
Price comes up with a definition of the most satisfying type of fun, what she calls “True Fun”: typically a serendipitous experience that brings together “playfulness, connection and flow”, adding a dose of much-needed meaningful engagement to our lives.
It is this confluence of factors, Price argues, that distinguishes the most exhilarating, restorative fun from something fleeting and somewhat superficial, like getting a pedicure or going out to a bar.
That said, less-sophisticated fun isn’t just a frivolous activity that we can simply do without. It, too, can serve as an antidote to stress, making it vital for our physical and psychological well-being.
Price gives examples of True Fun from her own life, such as singing in the car with friends and learning guitar and playing in a group. “There is a reason that our moments of True Fun stand out in our memories: True Fun makes us feel alive,” she writes.
As for how to get more of it, Price found it isn’t as simple as just spending less time on screens, or trying to squeeze more activities into schedules that are already stretched thin. In fact, it often involves doing less: prioritising rest or sleep, for instance. Or it might mean coming up with a plan to ensure that household tasks or childcare are shared evenly to make room for moments of pleasure and serendipity.
Price draws from the science of positive psychology in her quest to have more fun, but rigorous research takes a back seat to her own exploration and the findings of her Fun Squad: a global group of about 1500 people that Price recruited from her newsletter subscribers and invited to share their fun-seeking exploits.
Including less from this somewhat self-selecting group and adding more on new psychological research would have helped to bolster the book’s scientific standing. However, this might have come at the expense of its practical relevance. The strength of The Power of Fun is that it is approachable, anecdotal and inviting. After two years of living through a pandemic, many of us have spent more than enough time trying to force fun into our lives (Zoom quiz anyone?).
“True Fun’ is typically a serendipitous experience that brings together playfulness, connection and flow”
The success of Price’s self-experimentation provides motivation to at least try to seek out more activities that we actually take pleasure in. And her main point, that we should clear space in our lives for the things that truly mean something to us, is a sound one.
Price quotes the author Michael Lewis: “If you get in the habit of life not being fun, you start to not even notice.” Once you have noticed and, more importantly, taken action, there is plenty of fun out there for the taking. Why waste your time on anything else?
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