A while back, I wondered what exactly fun is. Like, what constitutes fun. How is it defined at a psychological level? At the time, I thought through fun times I’ve had, and two of the common threads were laughter and a shared experience with other people. I never really did land on a satisfactory definition of fun, though.
The latest episode of The Happiness Lab podcast explores exactly what I was looking for when I first started thinking about fun: how to have more of it. The episode, which features science journalist Catherine Price, whose book project on the power of fun necessitated that she actually define fun, does a more thorough job of breaking down what fun actually is than I did in my amateur armchair philosophizing. She based her assessment on a thousand people instead of just one, and she determined that fun incorporates the following:
- A sense of playfulness
- Connection with others
- Being in a flow state, where you’re so engaged with what you’re doing that time doesn’t matter
I was close! Playfulness and laughter are fairly synonymous to me, and sharing that playfulness with others creates a meaningful connection. The part I missed, but now I see clearly, is the part about being so absorbed in the fun activity that you don’t seek other distraction, and you lose track of time: the flow state.
Why does this matter? What difference does it make to now have fun defined? I don’t really know. Maybe I just like to understand things better. One thing they mentioned in the podcast episode is that sometimes we tell ourselves we’re doing something for fun, like scrolling through Twitter or Instagram, but we’re left feeling empty afterwards. We might tell ourselves we were in a flow state because we lost track of time in our absorption, but flow is an active state, not a passive one; in our social media “fun,” we were passively, glassy-eyed scrolling or superficially sharing, not actively engaging or connecting meaningfully with anyone. In that sense, understanding what fun actually is makes real fun easier to seek it out.