We Could All Benefit From a “Funtervention,” According to This Philly Author

Catherine Price is hosting a fun challenge (literally) all February long, inspired by her newest book, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again.

Philly-based writer Catherine Price encourages us all to create more space for fun in our lives. / Book cover courtesy of Catherine Price; headshot by Colin Lenton.

In 2017, Philly writer Catherine Price was taking intentional, prolonged breaks from her phone as part of her research for her book, How to Break Up With Your Phone. One afternoon, as her young daughter was taking a nap and her husband was running errands, she had time solely to herself and could spend it however she pleased. The problem: She couldn’t come up with anything she wanted to do for fun.

This seemingly mundane moment got Price thinking harder about what real fun looks like (as opposed to activities that are marketed as fun, but are actually so dreadful) and why most adults don’t pursue it as often as they should. (It also catalyzed her to join a beginner’s guitar class with Philly favorite, Mister John’s Music.) Her quest to uncover “true fun” and the ways in which more of us can tap into it is laid out in her newest book, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, which came out this past December.

In light of her recent publication — and officially beginning today — Price is running a free, month-long “funtervention” complete with activities, live phone calls and Q&As with other mindfulness experts. The program aims to help people harness the power of fun in their everyday lives.

We chatted with Price about her new book and this month’s funtervention as well as why having true fun might just be the key to living our best lives.

Why did you want to run a month-long challenge all about having fun?
I’ve always felt that February is one of the hardest months of the year where we live. It’s cold and dark, the holidays are in the rearview mirror, and spring is not yet within sight. It’s a rough month. And then when you throw in all the things happening right now — the seemingly never-ending pandemic, omicron, uncertainty as to what’s coming next, and the fatigue we’re feeling — it just felt like the right time to do something that would help people. And having fun can! True fun can help people feel more resilient as well as bring joy and delight during an objectively challenging time.

Do people have misperceptions about fun?
I think a lot of people view fun through this lens of “You can only have it if you’re already doing well.” It’s not that at all. Fun can actually help us weather hard times. I’ve experienced that myself. I signed this book contract in April 2020, which means it was very much a pandemic project, when opportunities for fun were very limited. Writing about fun, thinking about fun, pursuing fun where and how I could have made it possible for me to cope emotionally the past two years. Also, fun is not exclusive to a privileged few. Yes, you need to have your basic needs met, but you don’t need to be rich in order to experience true fun.

What do you hope participants will gain from the challenge?
I hope they’ll gain an understanding about what fun actually is: a confluence of playfulness, connection and flow, as I’ve come to define it. In other words, they’ll be able to know true fun when they feel it, and give it a name. Right now, there isn’t a very good definition of “fun” (other than mine *laughs*) if you look it up in a dictionary. That means that a lot of things and activities are marketed as “fun” when they’re actually what I call “fake fun,” or the junk-food category of fun — it makes us feel good in the moment, but unfulfilled in the long run. (I’m looking at you, social media!) I hope the challenge provides awareness around the difference between true fun and fake fun, so participants can prioritize the former.

I also hope people will get to have more experiences of flow. We are in a serious flow deficit from all the distractions we encounter throughout our day (hello, working from home). We need more moments where we’re simultaneously in the zone and feeling ourselves, but not for work.

So you mean we’re not having actual fun most of the time?!
It can feel demoralizing to think that all these activities we do on a daily basis might not be bringing us true fun. You are not alone! It’s actually very normal to think that “fake fun” is real fun because it’s made to make us believe it’s something it’s not.

A reminder I can give to help someone through the anger or sadness that comes with that realization is that true fun doesn’t need to be awe-inspiring or profound. These “that-was-so-fun” moments can be small, like laughing really hard with someone you care about. In the book, I include examples from folks, too — like squishing feet in the mud with a friend or talking in a fake British accent on a late night with one’s mom. We can lower our standards a bit and remember that true fun doesn’t necessarily need to happen during once-in-a-lifetime, mind-blowing events. I hope more people start appreciating and being mindful of the little or mundane moments when playfulness, connection and flow come together. They can be so profoundly joyful.

How does a person determine what “true fun” is, then?
I think my definition of true fun is universal, but each of us finds playfulness, connection and flow in different ways. Identifying what settings, people and activities generate true fun can help a person realize what their “fun magnets” are. So can figuring out what your “fun factors” are — characteristics that contribute to your fun magnets — and the things that hinder you from having fun.

[Ed. Note: In The Power of Fun, Price lists common physical and emotional signs of true fun, including a sense of release/letting go, the feeling like you’re having a special shared experience, not feeling judged or self-conscious, and childlike excitement/joy.]

What obstacles get in the way of having true fun?
In addition to sources of fake fun, our brains are naturally drawn to the negative and things that cause anxiety. It’s an evolutionary survival strategy: You scan your environment for threats because if you don’t, one of those threats might destroy you. It takes effort to shift our brains away from doom-scrolling and anxiety-producing headlines or ruminations and toward less stressful activities and thoughts. It’s difficult to do, but worth it, and fun can make that transition easier.

Adults also have a difficult time adopting what I call a “fun mindset” (embracing a “So what if I look dumb?” or “What’s the worst that could happen?” attitude) due to our own perfectionism. We have such high standards for ourselves, and we don’t want to be seen as not good at what we’re doing. That means we’re constantly holding back, judging ourselves, worrying about how we’ll be perceived. This happens in person, but it’s exacerbated by and on social media — we end up performing our lives instead of living them.

Another hindrance is that we’ve been trained to think that money is the most important way to measure our time spent. We have not been taught to be present and in the moment in order to enjoy our lives. Because of that, having fun often makes us feel guilty, as if we shouldn’t be having it because it might not be directly tied to our “success” and, therefore, we aren’t being responsible.

Oh, I feel that guilt HARD!
Totally. We’re conditioned to feel that way, which is why carving out the space for true fun is so powerful. There’s so much research that suggests people are actually more productive when they take breaks throughout the day and pursue their passions. When we do that, we’re working a different part of the brain, instead of overworking the same part.

It also makes me think about the excuse of “not having enough time” to take a break.
We have a lot more time than we think! We waste a lot of our time, either on social media or mindlessly scrolling or totally zoning out at the end of the day. When you’re super-stressed (and we’ve all been stressed these past two years), your brain can’t think straight. Cortisol (a stress hormone) gets in the way of your brain working the way it should. You’re left with these blinders that make you feel like you don’t possibly have any time to spare on anything that isn’t work. What can help mitigate that is experimenting with taking small breaks, like going outside for 30 minutes without your phone (or with your phone on silent) and then noticing how it felt to return to your phone or desk. More likely than not, you won’t have missed the most major email of your life. The consequence is probably not as bad as you feared, and the benefit is way better than anticipated.

How can funtervention participants, and people in general, put true fun into action?
True fun doesn’t have to be this abstract concept; we can experience it in our everyday lives. To have playful, connected flow, I designed a framework called SPARK, which stands for make space, pursue passions, attract fun, rebel, and keep at it. Whether or not you’re a funtervention participant, you can follow that five-step process for creating more opportunities for true fun.

Making space involves creating emotional and mental space for true fun and setting boundaries (including say no!) to eliminate fake fun. Pursuing passions sees us tapping back into activities that bring you joy or that you’re curious about. They could end up being your fun magnets, and building your skillset is especially conducive to flow. Attracting fun is about being more open to opportunities for true fun that might already exist or that you can generate yourself by noticing pre-existing moments of playfulness, connection and flow that are around us all the time. Rebelling is one of my favorites because being mildly devious can be a form of play. It reminds us to let go, do something (non-destructive) that we get a kick out of, and indulge ourselves a bit. Finally, keeping at it is a reminder that we don’t treat fun as a priority in our lives, but we need to! Fun needs to be treated like exercise: You have to work at it on a consistent basis in order to reap the benefits.

You can sign-up to join Price’s funtervention — which begins today — here. It’s free (and fun, obv)! And if you want more opportunities for fun in your life, tune into Price’s virtual talks on February 10th at noon and at 7:30 p.m., or attend a hike and ice cream social she’s co-hosting with Fairmount Park Conservancy on Saturday, February 12th.