He's not bad
Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet
Ms Bennett is the editor of Opinion magazine and writes on gender, politics and culture.
As a teenager I attended what was called a survival camp, completely voluntarily, ostensibly for fun. Survival camp consisted of being dumped in a remote part of the woods outside of Seattle with a backpack and a plastic garbage bag that doubled as a poncho, and spending the next 24 hours alone. I should have then built a hut out of ferns and ferns, prepared beans from a tin (which I could not open) on a fire (which I could not light) and ... survive. When my time was up, someone took me away.
Of everything I experienced in those 24 hours - boredom, disgust, hunger, fear - fun was not one of them. And yet somehow, as a kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was tricked into thinking it was comfortable. Seattleites love to suffer and love to be outside, so this combination of being outdoors to the limit with the reward of not being dead at the end was so ingrained in me as the pinnacle of fun as a kid that it took me years to realize that i hate it.
Perhaps that was the first time I had a lingering feeling that, as my husband likes to say, I "hate fun." And really, I don't like board games, card games, puzzles, sports, camping, anything that involves teaming up. No, I don't want to take an improv class. If I wanted to roam, I would move to Los Angeles.
For most of my life this condition was fine. Other people may pretend to enjoy museums, poker nights, hot yoga classes, and theme parks (ugh!) or force themselves to play gorpcore as part of their various forms of outdoor enjoyment. I was happy enough to spend hours scrolling through TikTok in bed, sitting on a park bench and people-watching, or chatting with friends. I didn't need a good time to have fun!
But during the pandemic, even I - a known party hater - began to feel a hunger for joy, pleasure and euphoria. You know that feeling because you've probably had it: we're stuck at home, fed up with our partners, roommates, kids, and even ourselves. No one wanted to touch or dance or, God forbid, have sex; there was nothing to gossip about. Instagram, which used to be full of funny pictures, is now filled with pictures of bread. After all, even the thought of complacency seemed distasteful. How can anyone play with all that suffering?
When the world opened up again, everything should have been better, but it wasn't. There were new variants, war and fires. The hot girl summer has come and gone and nothing has replaced it but a heat wave - it's just not the same.
I found myself on Google looking for the answer to the question, "What's funny?" which my therapist might take as a sign that I need to get off the computer and go outside, but I decided to google "Am I having fun?" Instead of that.Google told me what I already knew deep down: I—never really good at partying to begin with—had gotten into a pretty good routine. Maybe science could help me out?
What's really funny?Unlike happiness, play is not a state of being, although happy people often claim to be having fun. "To play" is not an action verb like "to play", although of course it can be caused by an action. Fun is not necessarily guaranteed by free time or access to things that are considered free - rest, vacation - although it can be argued that these things will free a person and allow them to enjoy themselves more. And unlike pleasure, which triggers a very specific cortisol response in the brain (which has been studied in rats and humans), analyzing the brain for gaming is difficult, in part because for humans gaming inevitably becomes unpleasant as soon as you start sitting in the scanner. how do you know if a rat is having fun?
"The game is elusive," said Harry Reis, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester and the man who would eventually become my game coach, though he didn't know it at the time.
I called Dr. Reis after I came across a study he conducted involving undergraduate students playing Jenga (title of the research paper: "Entertainment is more fun when others are involved"), in the naive hope that studying the game will teach me to have fun again. But not only is nothing universally considered fun—what counts as fun varies, as you might expect, by class, culture, identity, and age, among other things—but fun is also a feeling, and feelings are hard to plan, organize, or invent; everyone (except the employer) knows that forced fun is not real fun. The fun is knowing it when you have it.
According to Dr. Chris McManus, professor of psychology and medical education at the University of London, who I spoke to, there are many types of play.game taxonomy research paper. Dancing, roller coasters, the seventh game of the NBA championship - these activities can be described, in his words, as "ecstatic fun", full of excitement and unpredictability. Drugs, escapism, or sex were "sensual play, while gardening or reading a good book were "reward play." "Social fun" involved other people, although most researchers agree that there is a clear relationship with other people in (There's a famous bowling study, Dr. Reis said, that found people had more fun when they hitif I can watch other people after it happensThe latter, Dr. McManus said, is an "achievement game," or one that involves a goal or achievement, which might describe bowling or even survival camp. (He noted, interestingly, that the women in his study reported more social play and less successful play, while the older subjects tended to engage in meaningful play.)
What's your party vibe?
A non-scientific quiz.
Have you ever subscribed to a party?
But after speaking with Dr. Reis and Dr. McManus, I quickly hit a wall in my efforts to make learning more fun. Because there isn't really much research on entertainment.
For years, happiness research has been considered the holy grail of positive psychology, a relatively new subset of the field that deals with issues such as joy and gratitude. In the social sciences, economics, neuroscience, and even politics, researchers are now studying what makes people happy, tracing it across classes and cultures. (Look:Global Happiness Report.) In the United Arab Emirates it is currentlythe minister of happiness. In Bhutan, the government is knownpresents progress towards G.N.H.— Gross National Happiness — with GDP. At Yale, he teaches an introductory psychology course on happinesspsychologist Laurie Santosis histhe most popular class so far.
But fun? Fun has only a few published studies. dr. Reis stated that, as far as he knows, no psychology textbook has "fun" in its index. Happiness is seen as important, important and significant. Meanwhile, entertainment is seen as trivial. dr. Reis told me that his university has a day called Dandelion Day, which falls every spring just before final exams. Programming includes games, food trucks, live music, trivia contests and carnival rides. The idea is first of all for the students to have fun. But it is branded under the guise of stress relief and wellness.
dr. Reis suggested I keep a fun diary:a record of my daily activities, which I would then rate from 0 to 10 on a fun scale, effectively turning the pursuit of fun into homework. But the point, he said, was to help me remember what I, the not-so-fun Jessica Bennett, really enjoyed because I had apparently forgotten.
1. and.Gossip with a colleague about another colleague: 5 on the fun scale. Is partying at someone else's expense still fun? Yes, but it would be higher if the rumors were more rampant.
2. andA stimulating conversation with a group of sociologists that made my head spin: 9. Bonus points for fun and professional usefulness.
4. andLying in bed, ignoring my emails, sinking deep down the rabbit hole of pro-Johnny Depp fandom: 4. The fun I had while doing it was disgusting afterwards.
and 5Feeding my dog a new homemade treat that took me an hour to prepare and he ate it in two seconds: 10! Game! Is this what parenting looks like?
6. andI'm sitting under an umbrella in my cafe when suddenly a heavy rain came down and drenched everything around me. Employees and other customers crowded in and waved at me – spontaneous fun! Then fun again whentold the story, a scientifically proven mood-boosting tactic: 9.
and 7Shift work at the local vegetable stand, managing a clipboard and separating vegetables while talking to the neighbors - something I dreaded but turned out to be great fun, satisfying both my need for power (the clipboard) and my joy in mundane organization. Bonus points for unexpectedly funny: 8.
I was just beginning to see some patterns—that I enjoyed other people and, in some cases, dogs the most, and that play combined with a sense of accomplishment was especially rewarding—when my experiment worked. Day 8 coincided with the Supreme Court's rejection of Roe v. Wade: 0. Not only was it not fun, it sent me into a spiral of self-doubt about my frivolity in spending time on what seemed like a silly, self-indulgent project. A few days later I got sick with Covid. I quickly abandoned this task.
It was all important, Dr. Reis said encouragingly when I called him to report my failures, because people often let evil crowd out an opportunity for fun. It's nothing terrible, he assured me; it means i have empathy. "I think the fact that other people's suffering is so much more accessible to us now," he said, "thanks to social media and all that, it makes it harder to be here and enjoy what we're doing." And yet, denying the fun won't really change the outcome. Supreme Court rulings or whatever, and will probably make me feel worse.
When I spoke with Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at UC Riverside and one of the founders of positive psychology, she told me a story that stuck with me: After 9/11, when the field of positive psychology was still in its infancy, there was a time when they and other scientists debated whether they should abandon this quest. "We asked ourselves, do we really need to learn that when everything is so awful?" she said. Yet where they landed was the opposite: in fact, it mattered more. “The most common emotion people reported after 9/11 was gratitude. Part of this is because when you're depressed, depressed people don't do anything. Happier people can actually change the world.
One would think that this story convinced me that what I do is not shallow, but meaningful and valuable. It kind of happened. In a work-obsessed culture where even vacation has somehow become something to be optimized or madeproductivewe need entertainment.
It would be easy to justify the importance of entertainment. Emma Seppala, psychologist and author of The Path to Happiness, noted that incorporating more fun moments into our daily lives is associated with greater happiness and reduced stress. These are people who have fun at work more productive and creativewhile those perceived as not very funny areperceive less favorablyespecially if they were women. When in a state of true play, people report feeling focused and present, free of anxiety, self-criticism and perfectionism, according to science journalist Catherine Price, who has spent the past five years interviewing people about play for her book "A lot of fun.” "They laugh and feel connected to both other people and themselves."
All this may be true, and yet…
One of the side effects of recognizing the importance of happiness was the emergence of a kind of industrial complex of happiness, equipped with coaches, applications,Summer camp,salons and luxury body washes. It would be a shame if entertainment suffered the same fate - something that everyone can have, even if in small portions, and for which you don't need to ask for money, status or privileges.
But I'm not even sure if that's possible.
In his book Fun!: What Entertainment Tells Us About Living a Good Life, Alan McKee, an Australian professor of media studies, defines fun as follows: "Play is pleasure without a purpose." In other words, the same traits that prevent me from having pure fun - I need a goal! - hinder optimization; put it under a brain scanner and it tends to disappear.
In other words, my experiment was fundamentally flawed. It's fun to get out of your head. I was trying to think of a way to entertain myself.
In researching this story, I spent weeks cataloging the various ways my townspeople had fun—barbecues, neighborhood parties, riding motorcycles, playing dominoes in the park, dancing, hula hooping, stargazing, and naked picnicking. All these people were just living their lives and having fun, while I was sitting at home reading essays and lessons, wondering how to achieve this.
One group of guys who call themselvesCiti Bike Boyz, takes Citi Bikes (bikes that can be rented throughout New York City) to remote corners of the city to perform tricks. These bikes are clumsy 45 pound containers. Boys jump from cars and people; jump fences and railings in public parks; slide down the stairs of government buildings. Great fun with a touch of danger and the possibility of getting a traffic ticket, which makes it even more fun.
One hot Saturday, the photographer and I went to one of their locations, a skatepark under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Kosciuszko Bridge. As I watched, Jerome, Mel, and Nino taught me about the bunny hop (basically a jump), Superman (putting your body on top of a motorcycle as if you were flying), and 12 o'clock, which is a wheelie until you break the front of the wheel. (oops)
"For me, riding a bike is a crazy feeling full of fun," said Jerome Peel, 32, as he adjusted the bike's seat as he prepared to climb the ramp and soar over Nino's head. I asked if he could describe why it was so funny, and he gave me a funny look. Don't you know pleasure when you feel it?