Many may not realize that having fun is an important component of overall wellbeing. Oftentimes, especially when feeling anxious or depressed, we do not have the energy, enthusiasm, or desire to do something fun. We may at times feel for various reasons that we don’t deserve to have fun, or we have too much to do that’s “more important” than having fun. However, engaging in pleasurable activities and hobbies that are sustainable can bring many physical and mental health benefits. Having fun is of benefit to our mental health as it gives up a break from the worries that often preoccupy us throughout the day and even at night when we are trying to sleep. Getting a break from worrying in turn benefits our physical health as worry and stress are major contributors to chronic physical health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and inflammation.
Having fun can also promote improved memory, learning, and concentration. Neurologist Judy Wills conducted a study that showed how fun experiences can increase levels of dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen- all things that promote learning and improved cognitive functioning. In addition, engaging in fun and relaxing activities on a regular basis can help reduce cortisol levels and increase serotonin levels, all of which benefit us physically and mentally.
Purposefully setting aside time for fun and play also gives us the opportunity to seek out new adventures, explore new places, and develop new skills and interests. Engaging in novel activities is a key to a sense of vitality in life. Vitality is what energizes us and fuels our sense of strength and hopefulness about our lives. Giving ourselves permission to have fun may feel like an indulgence in a society that perpetuates productivity and results above all else, but enjoyment and pleasure make life richer and more fulfilling.
Think back to the last time you actually scheduled fun into your day that didn’t involve problem solving or reaching a goal. Perhaps it involved engaging in something active, such as crafting, playing tennis, or throwing a ball with your dog; or maybe it was the relaxation and pleasure of a sensory experience such as cooking your favorite meal, savoring that first cup of morning coffee, or truly listening and being present in a meaningful conversation.
Fun can also be spontaneous and whimsical such as pulling your car over to savor a sunset or behold the beauty of a field of wildflowers. It can include cultivating a spirit of playfulness and joy in the little things like wearing your grandmother’s vintage necklace or your dad’s old oversized sweater. Anything that is intrinsically enjoyable benefits your mind and body in so many ways. So today, think about what you can do to have fun. See if you can be willing to give yourself permission to have fun even while your mind tells you that you don’t deserve it or you shouldn’t be wasting your time, and tomorrow you just may find that having fun has become a habit.
By Tina Kaminski, LISW-CP