Ep. 98 – The Power (& Science) of Fun, Joy, and Play

As a professional nerd, I love digging into the thinking, science, and research around the benefits to our brains and bodies that come from different elements. There’s much to be learned about the flexibility of our brain through neuroplasticity, the strength of our skills through habits and repetition, and the powerful psychology that comes from consistency. 

All very important to a balanced approach to life. 

And. 

An often overlooked or de-prioritized element of making life well balanced, instead of just balanced, is dashes of joy or fun. 

Joy in whatever definition you call it – so it could be fun or pleasure, play, happiness. These are the rainbow sprinkles in between all of the effort. They are not meant to be the reward after all the work; they are the cushions within the work that help it feel worthwhile. 

When we defer or deflect the lighter moments of life, we end up collecting achievements & accolades but often at the cost of satisfaction and fulfillment. 

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that allowing space for fun creates a mental magnet for more of it.  

The opportunity here is that fun, joy, happiness they’re all within reach. We just make the idea of them larger, and the effort seem harder than the actual experience of having them. I see this a lot from the discussions and deliveries I do to groups.

Several times a year, I host small-group cohorts that focus on doing fewer things better (it’s very on brand from this podcast!). 

I’m in the middle of a group right now and we’ve been blending information with self-insight and then testing out the tools and techniques to see what works in our real, but busy and sometimes messy lives. 

One of the members recently shared that they have realized that they have what they call a “joy deficiency.” Going too long and doing too much for others led to a drought for her of fun. That’s something that a lot of us related to. 

As part of the cohort, I asked everyone to capture what we are now calling ‘joy bursts’ – quick, personal things that we can access during our days. And the ideas ranged from:

  • Call mom (or any other loved one)
  • Sit outside in the garden
  • Make a cup of tea
  • Play a favorite song
  • Give some love to my pet
  • Make plans to meet a friend

Finding joy in the things that are accessible really extends the enjoyment of the day itself. And making room for fun in our days is a mental muscle that we need to develop. And like any exercise, it’s the consistency of doing it over extended effort from time to time that really brings the most lasting change. 

And there are scientific benefits to all this joy and fun. One of the key ways to reduce stress – or, at least offset some of the stress we accumulate during the day is to have more of those joy bursts. 

Play (in any of its forms) can trigger the release of endorphins, and those are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins bring us an overall sense of well-being and they can even temporarily relieve pain. 

A great example is laughter, we know it’s known as a medicine. But in addition to endorphins, one of the ways laughter does that is it enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air and stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, that’s all according to the Mayo Clinic. 

But medical experts aside, the other day I had a personal, unexpected experiment in this. I was watching some videos and a new one popped up of a puppy eating a blueberry for the first time. I mean don’t ask me why I was watching puppy videos, but I didn’t even know I needed that particular joy burst in my life until I saw it. My heart was very, very happy – score one for science. 

There is also research that shows how play helps improve brain function. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain end up helping strengthen memory, increase creative thinking, and even extending focus on future tasks. 

The days are full of to-do’s, so this episode is a prompt to also look for the to-enjoys. 

I saw a quote online recently that said: “I cannot stress enough how important it is to do silly, frivolous things that serve no purpose other than making you happy.” 

For today, find a little bit more frivolous things. Carve out a few minutes for mental recess. Watch a puppy eat a blueberry, whatever works for you. And that’s the point, it’s for you and it’s about you. That’s an excellent way to spend some of our time. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.