The Science of Play. The Art of Fun.

The Science of Play. The Art of Fun.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much fun have you had this week? How many times have you felt completely free and completely alive?

I’ve recently been listening to the Happiness Lab podcast with Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos. Dr. Santos is most known for the most highly-attended class at Yale, entitled The Science of Well-Being. That’s a fancy course name for “How to Be Happier.” What’s not to love about that?

In a recent episode of her podcast, Dr. Santos joined a research project on how to have more fun, led by Catherine Price, author of The Power Of Fun: How To Feel Alive Again. Catherine Price describes having fun as being “engaged, focused, connected, and completely present.”

It’s not scrolling or checking notifications, zoning out or vegging on the couch. It’s laughing, twirling, soaking in life. It’s that feeling when you turn off your phone for take-off and settle in for a long flight – or is that just me?

It got me thinking about why fun matters- and how to have more of it.

 

It turns out, the science of fun is pretty interesting.

Even though everyone has their own idea of what’s fun, getting to do what we want, when we want is key. So if my mom says I have to do it a certain way, it probably doesn’t count as play any more!

Sharing the activity with other people is also key! When most people recall fun experiences, they are usually with other people. Introverts included. In the last year, we’ve all seen the negative effects of isolation. It stands to reason that the reverse is true. When we have fun together, we reap benefits too.

Physically, when we’re having fun, we get a hit of dopamine, the same feel-good hormone we get when we’re eating our favorite food, being rewarded or falling in love.

And when we get large hits of dopamine, we also lose track of time. If you’re thinking “time flies when you’re having fun,” it turns out it kind of does! Yasemin Saplakoglu writes for LiveScience.com about the research of Joe Paton, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Foundation:
“When you’re having fun, [brain] cells are more active, they release a lot of dopamine and your brain judges that less time has passed than actually has. When you’re not having fun, these cells don’t release as much dopamine, and time seems to slow down.”

Not only do we gain a lot of benefits from taking time to play, but when we don’t there are negative side effects too.

Depression, anxiety, and irritability are all symptoms of a lack of play, according to Dr. Stuart Brown, the former chief of Psychiatry at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in San Diego and author of the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul (Avery, 2009).

There’s even research that suggests that having fun increases productivity and reduces burnout. It reduces stress and balances hormones. It’s the spoonful of sugar AND the medicine!

 

So basically to sum it up…

FUN:
  • Strengthens relationships
  • Makes time fly
  • Decreases depression and anxiety
  • Increases productivity and reduces burnout
  • Makes us healthier

Fun creates bonds and builds resilience, in ourselves and in our families. It makes us better parents, friends, teachers, colleagues. It can actually make us healthier, happier people. And when we do go back to work, because accomplishing goals is awesome too, it helps us be more creative problem solvers and more productive.

That’s great. But I’m busy, you say. I don’t have time to do more. So how do I have more fun?

 

I’m glad you asked! Here are a few ideas to consider:

    1. Try noticing one delightful thing every day.
      Start small. Look for something that makes you smile – or laugh! – and dwell on it, journal it, revel in it for just a moment. For me, I am ridiculously overjoyed by lizard sightings, butterflies, or the way my kids say “afore” instead of “before”. Or the fact that my youngest is suddenly insisting that everyone give him “two blue Easter eggs” for his birthday in February.
    2. Invest time in a hobby.
      Reading, crossword puzzles, painting, pickup basketball games. It might feel like skipping school at first, but research shows that it will make you more efficient and more productive when you return to work.
    3. Plan a family “yes day.”
      Watch the movie Yes Day on Netflix if you don’t know what a yes day is! Pick a day and treat it like a stay-cation. Everyone gets a say in what you do and everyone’s all-in. Remember, having fun together strengthens your bond and increases resilience in your kids.
    4. Have regular family date nights.
      Put everyone’s phone away and go bowling or play games. (We’ve got some game ideas here.) Make sure that everyone gets a chance to choose the activity and don’t make it about the rules or manners. Laugh together as much as possible!
    5. Experiment with new activities.
      Take a dance class or piano lessons. But don’t be afraid to quit if you’re not having fun. Just because it’s fun for someone else, doesn’t mean you have to like it!
    6. Schedule free time into your family’s calendar.
      It takes intentionality to keep the family calendar from looking like a war plan. But just like well-visits and teeth cleanings, everyone needs unscheduled free play every now and again.

     

  1. It turns out, fun is as important for your health as eating healthy, drinking enough water or exercising. And if you don’t believe me, just do a quick Google search and you’ll find a lot more research to prove it! So, take the scenic route, stop to smell the roses, play a little PacMan. It’s worth every second.

 

  1. And if you have more ideas on easy ways to incorporate fun into your day, drop us a note in the comments!
Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Specialist

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens from all different walks of life, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.

Ep. 29: Teen Driver Safety & Halloween

Ep. 29: Teen Driver Safety & Halloween

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Summary:
Is your teen driving or about to start driving? Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens (15-18 years old) in the United States, which makes talking about safety a vital conversation. Join us during Teen Driver Safety Week (October 17-21, 2021) to learn ways to help teens navigate the fun and the dangers of driving.  Then, we’ll share ideas on Halloween costumes for teens (and adults) that are easy to pull off last minute! And don’t miss this week’s tip on how to help teachers (or other trusted adults) make potentially difficult days a little better.

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below or email podcast@teenlife.ngo.  We would love to hear from you!

About Us:

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

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Ep. 28: Self Harm & Devious Licks

Ep. 28: Self Harm & Devious Licks

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Summary:
Do you know what to look for when a student is self-harming? On episode 28, we talk about the signs of self-harm and why teenagers choose it over other ways to deal with their emotions (00:18). Listen for action steps you can take to help. Then don’t miss the conversation about the latest TikTok trend that impacted school campuses all over the country, “Devious Licks” (12:56). Tell us about your own experience with TikTok trends in the comments! Also, make sure you get a copy of the Ultimate Adult Guide to TikTok (20:20).

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

*Please Note: The examples of damage done by the Devious Lick challenge were removed by TikTok administrators.

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below or email podcast@teenlife.ngo.  We would love to hear from you!
About Us:
Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.
Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

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Back to Basics

Back to Basics

Anyone else feel overwhelmed right now? Or, just a little whelmed? Bad jokes aside, we find ourselves at a point of history where everything is rushing to come back to “normal.” While spending a lot of time apart, all the sudden our calendars are full and the phone is ringing off the hook.

I know for me and my family, we are feeling the squeeze. After the spring and summer of 2020 and the odd last school year, enough time passed where we got used to the “new normal”. Now the “old normal” comes charging in and wants to be in charge. With these two realities competing for attention, it is hard to adjust.

The last time I wrote for the Teen Life blog, I described a phenomenon called languishing that described so many of us. It wasn’t depression and it wasn’t elation, but something kind of in the middle. We were slogging towards something, but we really didn’t know what it was. Now I think for many of us who are school adjacent, we are experiencing less languishing and more whiplash. It’s like we have been asked to re-join pre-pandemic life, and with no time to waste.

This can feel a bit like going on a long run without stretching first. And I know if I’m feeling this way, our students are as well. In fact, so many of our school-based partners are reporting their students are struggling more than ever. Many kids haven’t been on a school campus in a year and a half, and they are being asked to re-adjust as if nothing ever happened. Talk about overwhelm!

When we feel like this, the world gets really tight. It can be hard to function or even make basic decisions. Overwhelm feels suffocating and it’s hard to achieve academically, let alone have a healthy social/emotional life. We need a different tactic.

Both my boys are baseball players and have recently experienced hitting slumps. It’s so hard to see them swing and miss over and over and feel the frustration of not being able to hit. They have well-meaning coaches who help them adjust or make tweaks, but the more coaching happens, the more they tighten up. It’s a cycle that’s hard to break out of.

But one of the really effective tactics I hear from coaches who work with elite baseball players is quite counterintuitive. They say instead of more adjustments, to go with something much more simple.

The tee.

That’s right. Even elite level hitters find their way back to hitting a ball off the tee to get out of a slump. Can you imagine? When you think of a baseball tee you think about a little four year old learning to hit. But the idea is, we want to get back to what got us here to begin with.

Feeling the ball hit the bat. We swing the bat to hit the ball. It couldn’t be more simple than that. The thing is, a slumping hitter has forgotten what it feels like to do the thing they came to do – hit the ball!

With our teens, and ourselves, we need to find what it is that gets us going. With school. With family. With relationships. All of it. What is the basic joy that comes from the things we do?

When we are overwhelmed, what if we took a moment to ask ourselves: “Why am I even doing this?” or “What do I really love about this thing I’m so stressed out about?”

If we are under constant stress we could ask: “What is one thing simple I could do differently that would help with this stress?” or “What can make things just a little better with my stress?”

This seems overly simplistic, but if we are overwhelmed, adding a lot of other things to figure out the overwhelm likely will just make it worse. But if we go back to the basics, or “back to the tee,” we remember what is really important and that is what we can lean into.

So if you are pressing right now, or if it all just seems like too much, find the places in life where you can “go back to the tee.” There you will find what really matters.

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

Ep. 26: Dating & Suicide Terms

Ep. 26: Dating & Suicide Terms

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Summary:
What should you do when your teen starts dating? We’ve got some food for thought on how to help teens make responsible choices without overstepping. Also in episode 26, we take a look at suicide terms, what they mean and how you can help. Then stay tuned for upcoming movies and shows to watch with your teen.

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below or email podcast@teenlife.ngo.  We would love to hear from you!
About Us:
Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.
Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Follow Us

Ep. 25: School Skills & TikTok Influencers

Ep. 25: School Skills & TikTok Influencers

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Summary:
The transition to middle school can be trying for everyone in the family, but Chris and Karlie have a few tips and tricks to help ease your middle schooler into their new routine without you losing your mind in the process (00:40). We’re also back with more on TikTok and TikTok influencers (9:30). Learn more about how your teen may be deciding where to shop and what to buy. Then, don’t miss this week’s tip on an amazing resource for teaching digital literacy to your kids and students (18:25)!

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

Have a question? If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
About Us:
Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.
Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Follow Us