We all know people who seem to attract fun.
They’re the friends whose presence at a dinner party guarantees that everyone is going to have a good time. They exude warmth, playfulness and self-confidence, and people always appear happy to have them around.
What might not have occurred to you is that it’s possible for you to become one of those people yourself, even if you think of yourself as shy or introverted.
Consider some of the traits that popped up in people’s responses when I asked the members of my research group for my latest book, The Power of Fun, to describe people in their lives whom they considered fun. Here are some of their answers:
• They’re spontaneous.
• They’re at ease with themselves and comfortable in their own skin.
• They’re not afraid to be silly.
• They’re not afraid to try new things and to be a beginner.
• They’re not afraid to be vulnerable.
• They’re appreciative of the small things.
• They find joy in being alive.
Many of the descriptions of fun people also had to do with the way the fun folks made other people feel in their presence. For example:
• You never feel judged by them.
• They make everyone feel included.
• They’re considerate of others’ feelings.
• They get excited with you.
• They create wonderful, shared memories.
When I read through these descriptions, two things stood out.
Very few of the characteristics mentioned were genetically determined and you don’t need to be extroverted to be considered fun. For instance, you do not need to be the life of the party to make other people feel included, or to create wonderful memories, or to appreciate the small things in life.
In fact, many of the qualities people mentioned — such as being considerate of other people’s feelings — are things that introverts do naturally. What’s more, many of the traits that make people seem fun are the result of choices and habits, practiced over days and years. This means that, counterintuitive though it may seem, being a “fun” person is a skill we can develop.
The primary thing that separates people who attract fun from their peers is their attitude. They approach life in general with what I call a “fun mindset” (which is a fun-oriented twist on Carol Dweck’s growth mindset).
Having a fun mindset refers to the habit of intentionally approaching and reacting to your life in a way that is attractive to fun — or, more specifically, true fun, which I define as the confluence of playfulness, connection and flow.
The secret to developing a fun mindset is to deliberately seek out as many opportunities as you can in order to create or appreciate playfulness, connection and flow. Here are some specific suggestions for how to do so.
We all enjoy spending time with people who make us laugh and who laugh a lot themselves.
1. Be easy-to-laugh
In the words of former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, “The easiest way to have more humor … is not to try to be funny; instead, just look for moments to laugh.” My husband and I refer to this as being “easy-to-laugh,” and it is one of the most powerful ways to nurture a fun mindset. (My copy editor has correctly pointed out that “easy-to-laugh” is not actually an expression and doesn’t make grammatical sense—instead, it really should be “laugh easily.” But it’s become so much a part of our family lexicon that I’m keeping it.)
We all enjoy spending time with people who make us laugh and who laugh a lot themselves. The easier you are to laugh (and the more things you can find to laugh about) the more attractive you’ll be, both to other people and to fun. And, to point out the obvious, you’ll also spend more time laughing, which in itself will make you feel good.
2. Say “yes, and”
“Yes, and” is a technique (and philosophy) derived from improv comedy in which you respond to new ideas and suggestions by agreeing with them (the “yes”) and building on them (the “and”). In her book Bossypants, master improviser and Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey explains it like this:
“You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with ‘I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,’ and you just say, ‘Yeah … ’ we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, ‘I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,’ and you say, ‘What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, ‘I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,’ and you say, ‘Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figurines.’ Or if I say, ‘I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,’ and you say, ‘I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,’ now we’re getting somewhere.”
Another way to develop a fun mindset is to regularly and explicitly ask yourself, “How could I add a bit of playfulness, connection or flow to whatever I’m doing or experiencing right now?”
You don’t need to be an improv comedian to practice the art of “yes, and” (believe me). Instead, you can use its underlying philosophy — deliberately choosing not to shoot down ideas, but instead to affirm and build on them — as a way to strengthen your fun mindset by opening yourself to spontaneity, making other people feel included, and becoming more adaptive (and, for that matter, less of a wet blanket).
3. Sprinkle playfulness, connection and flow into your days
Another way to develop a fun mindset is to regularly — and explicitly — ask yourself, “How could I add a bit of playfulness, connection or flow to whatever I’m doing or experiencing right now?”
You can do this whether you’re with other people or alone, and your ideas don’t have to be earth-shattering to be effective. A woman named Helen who was participating in my research group decided to experiment with the idea while pouring herself some tea. “I thought, ‘How could I make [it] more fun?’ ” she told me in an email. “So I poured tea while standing on one leg, and you know what? It was more fun.”
I don’t think that her one-legged tea pouring will end up being one of her peak fun memories, but it goes to show how approaching life with a fun mindset can affect your moment-to-moment experience and improve your mood. Figuring out ways to add even teensy bits of playfulness, connection and flow to your everyday activities can also help objectively non-fun activities, such as chores, feel more tolerable.
It reminds me of the introduction to the Mary Poppins song “A Spoonful of Sugar,” in which Mary matter-of-factly states, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and, snap! The job’s a game.” (Granted, the ensuing scene involves Mary performing a whistling duet with an animatronic robin and doing a fair amount of magic.)
And I’m not saying that you’re going to turn cleaning your cat’s litter box into a delight. But the more you can cultivate a fun mindset in your everyday life, the lighter your everyday life will feel.
If you’re still feeling insecure or apprehensive about putting yourself out there, remember that anything you do to attract fun is a gift to the people you’re with.
4. Send out play signals
Another way to build a fun mindset is to create more moments of everyday connection by sending out more play signals — i.e., things we do to let other creatures know that we are being playful and that our intentions are friendly, and to invite them to respond with playfulness, too.
One of the play signals dogs use is the bow they perform when they try to get another dog to play with them — they lunge onto their front elbows, stick their bottoms in the air, and wag their tails. An example of a play signal in humans would be brief eye contact combined with a smile or a comment that invites conversation. Even a playfully sarcastic line can work, such as “Nice weather we’re having” when you’re in the midst of a snowstorm.
This is one of the many ways in which our interactions with our devices are getting in the way of fun: Instead of sending play signals, we’re all staring down at our screens. With no signals, there are no invitations to play, and no play happens. Making a point to look up from your phone and send play signals is a wonderful way to invite more playful interactions — and ultimately, more fun — into your life.
“What play signals do is invite a safe, emotional connection, if even for an instant,” writes Stuart Brown in his book Play. “Even in casual interactions, the sincere compliment, the remark about the hot/rainy/freezing/damp weather, a joke or sympathetic observation opens people up emotionally. It transforms a grim, fearful, and lonely world into a lively one.”
And if you’re still feeling insecure or apprehensive about putting yourself out there, remember that anything you do to attract fun is a gift to the people you’re with. As bestselling author Michael Lewis points out, “People don’t want to have a boring life, or even a boring conversation. They’re just risk averse. If you create an environment where there’s no reason to be afraid, all of a sudden, things loosen up.” In other words, everyone wants to have fun; they just don’t know how.
The more you cultivate your own fun mindset, the more fun you’ll attract — and the better equipped you’ll be to invite others to join you.
Excerpted from the new book The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again by Catherine Price. Copyright © 2021 by Catherine Price LLC. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
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