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Well, now we've got a cat joining us in here, too, it's like a whole party. Is that the closet? This is our new closet. Oh. Oh, my goodness. This cat is going to try to come up.
Well, I've got a sheep and a signed photograph of Julie Andrews. So we go, OK, cool party. Oh, my God.
Put that behind my back.
I've got a cat purring in the microphone and a kid who wants to stay here, so.
See how this goes.
So, buddy, if you stay, you're going to be quiet. You know that, right? She's like, what makes you think I wouldn't be quiet? Totally. But can you keep your cat quiet? Because this cats like.
Making sweet, sweet love to the microphone. There are a lot of beating hearts in this closet right now. It's true, it's not hot to you got like an H back system in there. It's definitely hot.
And there's been a little bit of hot boxing from certain kid named Alexander. So that's been fun.
From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast.
I'm Dan Harris. We would appreciate it if you would do us a solid if you would take a few minutes to help us out by answering a survey, the team here is always looking for ways to improve. So if you want to help us out, hook us up. Please go to 10 percent dot com forward slash survey, 10 percent dotcom forward slash survey. Thank you.
At a time like this, fun may seem frivolous, but our guest today is going to argue convincingly, in my opinion, that fun is absolutely essential to a well lived life. She is thought very deeply about what actually constitutes fun and how we can best live a life that is conducive to fun. In other words, she argues that fun is actually a trainable skill. You may have heard of Catherine Price. She's been on the show before. She wrote an excellent book called How to Break Up with Your Phone, which had a significant influence on me.
And we start this conversation by talking about ways to achieve what she calls screen life balance during a time of pandemic and political upheaval. And then we flow directly into fun, which is something you can only have when you put your phone down. So here we go, Catherine Price. Catherine, nice to see you. Nice to see you, too. I know you're looking at me and the listeners can't see we're looking at each other in screenshots. I can see you sitting on your daughter Clara's bed, surrounded by stuffies reclining against a stuffed goat or sheep.
It's a sheep. And I have a live cat draped over the back of my chair here and a live five year old playing with said cat. So it's going to be this is going to be an interesting podcast. This is one of these days when kids aren't in school. So it could get messy.
I'm going to try not to laugh for the entire entire Alexander is in his Butterman PJs. So really great to see you. And we there's so much to talk about.
Let's just start with, you know, the last time you were on the show, we were talking about your great book, How to Break Up with Your Phone, and which I've read a couple of times. It's just really, really great. And you and I have worked together on my phone relationship. But our relationship to technology or what you call screen life balance has only gotten more and more fraught in the pandemic. So what's on your mind as it pertains to screen life balance right now?
A lot is on my mind regarding screen life balance because so much of life has shifted onto screens, as everyone knows now, it just seems completely necessary to be on technology all the time. And so it's been very interesting to think about, well, how do we maintain some kind of balance and why is that important during a time when so much of our screen time is necessary both for ourselves and for our children? But I think it's actually more important than ever.
All right, well, let's just because kids are on my mind right now, because I've got one and I think there's actually literally a child on your lap pretty much is standing next to me. So he's got the day off from school, but he is learning remotely, I have to say, our school district, the remote learning is actually going very well. I know that is vanishingly rare, but I do worry because I watch him sitting in front of a computer learning all day.
I've been very proud of his attention span and engagement and very impressed by the teachers.
And yet it's a lot of screen time. And then I wonder, you know, how do we manage the other screen time that we've heretofore allowed him? So and I know you've got a little girl. So how are you thinking about these issues?
I mean, think about these issues a lot. I mean, I think that. It really depends on the kid and their age in terms of how well, quote unquote, remote learning is going to work for them. I use the quotes because I think that the learning can be questionable, especially for the little kids. I think that it's really making. It clear that screens are not the same as real life kids make that really clear, being in a class with other kids is not the same as being in a classroom on Zoom.
And we're all just kind of making things work the best we can. But I think most people would agree that this is not ideal in any way. And I think it's really important to recognize that it is a lot of screen time for kids. I'm not saying screen time is a bad thing per say, but at least my friends whose kids are in the Philadelphia district schools, they're doing like seven hours a day of Zoome for kindergarten, seven hours a day of Zoome for an adult is like I mean, I could never do that.
And I think that kids give us a better sense physically of what the challenges are because they aren't as good as adults. I mean, actually, I think they're better than adults, but I don't think there is able as adults to make themselves sit still for that long. You can kind of see the frustration that we are also feeling as adults, but it's more obvious with the child, and I personally don't think that's great for anyone to be spending that much time just sitting.
I mean, there's plenty of research just on the sitting part alone. So if you're in a situation where you are forced by the situation to have a lot of screen time for your kid, I think it's really important to figure out ways for them to take breaks, to see how they're interacting with it. Are they actually getting anything out of it? And also to, as you were alluding to, really think more consciously about the other screen time they're having try to figure out if there's some way to achieve more of a balance there.
You get seven hours and zoom. You probably don't want to then spend four hours watching movies because then you're just going to spend your entire waking life staring at a screen. Yeah.
Yes. You talked about Zoom and where my mind went with that was leaping from children to adults. Was this issue of zoom fatigue, which is not a new issue. We've been talking about this for months, but we haven't actually talked about much on this show. And I'll just say for me, Zoom, fatigue is real. And I wonder what we've set up some norms in the 10 percent happier company where it's totally fine to be audio only.
What's your view on how to manage zoom? The fatigue, the etiquette, all of that?
Oh, I hate Zoom. I mean, OK, I love Zoom in that sometimes it's nice to see a friend's face. Right now what I'm doing is that big picture is bigger than your picture on this. And I'm thinking, Catherine, why don't you brush your hair today? And then I'm thinking, where do I look to look like I'm maintaining eye contact with Dan? You're on the right hand side of my screen above a map, and then the dot is in the center atop.
So trying to stare at the dot, but then I'm not looking at you, but if I look at you, then I'm not looking at you from your perception. That's exhausting. And to our brain, it's also exhausting to try to read the cues of a person that we're used to seeing in three dimensions, in two dimensions. It's much harder to pick up on the subtle facial cues that would indicate what you're feeling or thinking in that moment. It's harder to have the flow of the conversation keep going because we just part of our brain is monitoring the screen in a way that is unnatural and takes extra work and makes it feel a little bit more forced.
You also have the challenge of having to emote more. I've spoken to teachers even before having to use masks. If they're like, you know, teaching a person being on Zoome, you have to almost act like an actor in a play and smile more than you would or just articulate more than you would. And that's exhausting. No one's going to be putting on a play for eight hours a day every day of the week in the same way that some people are sitting in front of zoom calls.
I think it's really interesting that a lot of people express this kind of relief at just a good old fashioned phone call where you don't have to worry about that. I mean, clearly, you and I are not particularly concerned about our professional parents. I'm not good at that in general. But if I had to actually worry about getting the stuffed sheep away from the camera, which, by the way, is an excellent back support at the moment, you know, it's just like so performative.
It's just exhausting. And to go back to the question about kids also, if I may, because I've been thinking about this, please.
I think that it is interesting how we've defaulted to trying to replicate a traditional school experience on a screen, and I understand in many cases that's necessary because I mean, we're just dealing with so much right now. And I do not envy teachers or school administrators at all, but I do think that there's an opportunity for us to question what's the actual objective, whether it's learning a skill or some kind of social development, and then ask, is there another way we could help our children achieve that?
That doesn't require them to sit in front of a computer all day. And the case of my daughter, she's the same age as your son. And we've been thinking, OK, well, she's not attending kindergarten in person. She does not do well with Zoom. And I have a flexible schedule and my husband does as well, thankfully. So how can we actually facilitate her learning whatever skills might be expected of her from kindergarten in a way that retains her love of learning and doesn't require her to try to sit in front of a screen all day when that is not something that she is very skilled at at the moment and also, frankly, not a skill I want her to have to develop, especially when she's five.
Yeah, no, I hear you just jump back to adults for a second. What are your recommendations for those of us who are struggling with screen life balance now when we need screens to do our jobs or to stay connected with other human beings, and then we're still many of us, engaging in the same amount of maybe even more screen time for recreational reasons, you know, watching stuff on our phone, scrolling through social media, which is, again, another way that many of us feel is useful to stay connected.
You've been talking about striking this balance for a long time. How do we do it under these suboptimal circumstances?
I think what's interesting about the current environment is it's forcing us to reckon with our screentime in a way that we didn't have to before because it's become more of an actual issue. I think a lot of times before it was kind of like, oh, I don't really feel great about my screen time, but it's not the most pressing concern. And now it's like, oh my goodness, I'm spending all day in front of a screen. I don't know what to do about it.
I feel powerless and helpless and I feel out of control and bad about it. So I think there's an opportunity here. And what I recommend, which is, as you know, I've always recommended, is that you not think about screen time as some kind of lump-sum just in the same way that you wouldn't think about food is just one mass. There's different types of food. Some of it taste better. Some of it is better for you. And it's the same thing with screen time.
So what I recommend that people do is to start by sorting their screen time into the parts that are necessary and then the parts that are voluntary. And for the necessary part, you can evaluate that as well. I guess you think about what is the actual purpose there. For example, you probably have to do a course with work. As you're saying, though, maybe you don't have to have all those be on a screen if it doesn't feel like that's the best format for it.
So figure out what your actual purposes and then say, OK, well, what is the best way to achieve that remotely with the challenges that that entails then for your leisure time? I think that that's where you really have a lot more leeway to get creative and to think, OK, in normal times, maybe after spending the whole day interacting with people in person, going home and watching Netflix and just kind of zoning out is actually exactly what you want and need.
But now we're in a situation where you probably spent a lot of hours staring at a screen already and maybe that habit, that Netflix habit doesn't feel is good. Maybe that actually just kind of leaves you feeling lonely and just zoomed out or screened out or whatever, since that's leisure time and that's a choice, you actually can get more creative about what to do with that time. And I think that we tend to just. Think that screens are the only option for leisure and for recreation, and I know we're going to talk more about this later in our conversation, but what I've personally realized is that for myself, because that was an issue for me, too, is that we know actually, if you take a step back, even during a time like this, when our in-person interactions are limited, there are still ways to spend our time that doesn't involve screens.
And often those activities end up making us feel better and more refreshed afterwards. And then the next step, I would say, for people to think about is once you've figured out your purposes right. Like what your goals are and what you actually want to be doing, then we need to set boundaries and create kind of structures that will help support those things. I think one of the main challenges for people right now is we've got phones in our pockets, we've got iPads and TVs, and then we've got computers.
And between all those things, we always have access to a device. And many of those devices have all the same things on them. They have your work email, they have the Internet, they have your recreational screen time. Everything is on all of the devices and we access to at least one of them at all time. It's very easy for our boundaries to bleed and just not exist at all. So one thing I recommend is try to figure out like which device are you going to do those Xoom calls on and only do it on that device?
Or which device are you going to check the news on? I mean, we could talk about the news. That's a huge problem for people always, and especially right now. But if you feel compelled to check the news, figure out what device and figure out how many times a day and for how long, because it's very easy for that to take over your life. So once you kind of create these guidelines and boundaries for yourself, then it becomes a little bit easier to keep the parts of your life separate, because that's the main underlying challenge, right, is all of our lives are blending together.
Our roles as parents are blending with their roles as professionally and as, you know, partners, like everything is all happening well, actually in your closet right now. So we need to figure out some way to keep these things distinct. And the first thing to do is think about how you can start to tease out and untangle the various uses of your devices.
Yeah, I like that. The sort of you can disambiguate some of this by giving devices designated rolls. Another piece of advice, one of the many reasons why I really click with you is you're interested in meditation and you do recommend the use of mindfulness to especially in leisure time, where you're actually opting in to screens. What is your mood like?
Can you notice what your mood is like when you're on screens and use that as a guide? For me? I really you know, I made big changes to how I interact with technology. I've done some backsliding since working with you. But what is it like in an evening when I'm hanging out with my wife, either watching movies or if we're just talking? What's it like when I've got my phone there? And what's it like when it's in the other room?
And it's very obvious. It doesn't take I don't need a year in the Himalayas to summon enough mindfulness to see that it's better when the phone's in the other room.
Right? Right, exactly. I think that that's a wonderful point and something you and I have talked about before, that I try to emphasize this technology is actually a wonderful opportunity to bring mindfulness into our daily lives. And mindfulness is a wonderful tool to help us manage our relationships with technology. And I mean, I think of all of the stuff I've been doing, all the work I've been doing is really just mindfulness in disguise. It's basically just trying to become better at recognizing how you feel about your experience in the present moment while you're having it.
And then if you're not happy with how that experience is making you feel gently nudging yourself in another direction, I don't think that there's any reason for us to beat ourselves up over our screen time, especially now. I mean, come on, do we need to have anything else to be anxious and, like, flagellate ourselves about? I don't think so. So but with that said, we're probably not feeling our best selves at the moment. Right.
Like even physically, if you're spending this much time just sitting and staring at a screen, you're not walking, you're not moving around as much. So I think that there are so many opportunities to just check in with yourself gently throughout the day and say, how do I feel right now? How's my breathing? How's my body? How does my brain feel? Do I feel crazy? Is there anything I can do to make myself feel less crazy?
That's the question I ask myself all the time and like you're saying, and then just make a decision based on that realization without worrying about what you just did. I mean, the fact that you noticed it means you're succeeding and then just gently choose a different activity or different use of technology. I completely agree with you. I mean, first of all, it's really hard not to backslide right now because of everything. Right. But then second, it's just the more you can get in this habit of just gently checking in with yourself, the more you realize you actually are in control.
And it really does feel different to be checking your phone while you're talking to someone or checking your phone while you're doing anything else versus just doing one thing at one time. And right now, when we're doing so much multitasking, I think it's more important than ever to really hone in on that awareness so you can try to create space and calm for your brain when you have the ability to do so.
I was looking at a list of advice that you give. And I've been working off it as we talk, advice that you give for people who are interested in striking screen life balance at this difficult time. And and I think this next piece of advice flows out of what we've just been discussing, which is how to notice when your stress scrolling or doom scrolling. Can you talk about that? All of us are scrolling and scrolling right now because we are anxious and I think it's actually really interesting to talk about what's happening in our brains when this happens.
So just to back up do I'm scrolling. Scrolling, that's when you're like, oh, I know I shouldn't check the news. That can make me feel good, but here I am. And now it's forty five minutes later and I feel horrible, but I just cannot stop scrolling.
And it's not just the news, it's just I might just find myself scrolling through Twitter or I don't really check Instagram that much just because I got nothing else to do or I'm stressed. And somehow I think that this is going to give me some dopamine. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I know. I'm talking to a news man. I should be careful of when I talk about that.
No, no, no, no. I'm not defensive about the news. I believe titration of news consumption is really important. I just think it's a broader problem than just the news.
Yes. Yes. I guess I was going for the doom aspect of it versus just scrolling through whichever one of your stress scrolling, you know, you're just scrolling through anything and you just, you know, and part of your brain is that making you feel good, but you feel like you can't stop. And I think it's useful for people to recognize that when you're feeling stressed out the part of your brain that actually can help you make rational decisions, the prefrontal cortex actually goes offline under stressful conditions, which is unfortunate because that's when we need it the most.
So right now, I think for many reasons, many of us are feeling a lot of stress and therefore more likely to turn to something to soothe ourselves, whether it's stress scrolling or some kind of substance, honestly. And even if we know that that's rationally not the best thing for us to be doing for ourselves. Our brains are actually in an altered state when we're stressed out and it becomes more difficult to resist or not give in to that temptation of just scrolling.
And I say that just to give people an understanding so that we beat ourselves up a little less when we find ourselves doing those things, have some compassion for yourself. It makes sense from a brain perspective that you were doing that. But with that said, like, it doesn't mean you need to keep falling into those spirals. The first step, as we discussed, is the awareness that you're doing it. You're like, oh, boy, here I go again.
Even if you notice that after forty five minutes you're still succeeding because you noticed it. And then the next thing is to figure out ways that you might be able to limit that. We already discussed trying to assign particular use this to particular devices. So only looking at the news on your desktop, for example, not having your work email on your phone, installing and uninstalling apps to help yourself. For example, I remember, Dan, when we worked together last, you were talking about how at least at that point, you had taken Twitter off your phone and you were going to reinstall it for Twitter related emergencies in the field, which I thought was a brilliant idea, because just that 20 seconds or so that it takes to reinstall an app is often enough for us to recognize what we're doing and then pick a different direction.
I call those speed bumps and there's also like apps you can use that can help you with that, such as Freedom, which is an app blocker that you can use to limit actually limit your time on particular apps and websites, as opposed to just that hourglass that Apple shows you that says, do you want to ignore your time limit? And then you, of course, say, yes, I want to ignore it, then you feel doubly bad about yourself.
So there's lots of little techniques you can use once you have the awareness that you're in the scroll to get yourself out of it. And one of the most important things is figure out an alternative. You have to have something to do in those moments that is not scrolling. Otherwise you're relying on willpower to resist it. And that's a horrible way to try to change your habit.
Once again, you've kind of brought us right up to the line of the subject of fun. But before we dive in on unfund, because I really want to go deep on it, looking at this list, which was sent to me by the intrepid Samuel Johns, who's the producer of the show. And another is and I think I'm an offender in some ways on this, or at least in some day parts, you advise us not to try not to start and end the day with our phones.
Well, because it's a horrible way to start and end your day. And because if you check your phone first thing, let's back up for a second. Your phone, more specifically, the apps on it are designed to steal your attention from you and your time, because that is how they make money, because most of the apps are the most problematic, derive their revenues from advertising. And the more data they can collect from us and the more time we spend on them, the more valuable we are in terms of advertising.
So to do that, app makers deliberately mimic and copy techniques from slot machines, which are very addictive. And so we are already at a disadvantage when we open our phones because there's so many tricks, psychological tricks built into these apps to keep us scrolling. There's people who are extremely smart who have built these. There's algorithms that know exactly what it's going to take to keep us scrolling. So we are really at a disadvantage when it comes to maintaining control of our time to begin with.
I bring that up because if you look at your phone first thing the morning, you're basically saying the first thing that you're going to do in your day is to allow an app maker or an algorithm to decide how you're going to spend your next thirty to forty five minutes or even longer. I don't think any of us would say that our number one goal in any day is to check Instagram or to check Twitter or even to check the news. But we're going to do that because that's how apps are designed, so.
One of the most important things we can do if we want to regain our time and feel in control of our lives is to make sure that we're in charge of when we look at our devices in the morning and when we look at them before bed. And I think that those are two of the most effective times to start with when it comes to taking back control of your devices, because you're kind of like easy targets. So first of all, in the morning, everyone uses their phone as an alarm clock.
Stop doing that, because if you want to turn the alarm off, you have to touch your phone. I recently got this watch that vibrates. You have it has an alarm that vibrates and wakes you up via a vibration. And I found that to be really effective because I don't have to hear a beep and wake up. My husband and I also don't need to use my phone. And maybe you can use whatever, obviously alarm clock you want, get an alarm clock, also get a watch so that you're not beholden to your phone whenever you want to wake up, because that's just going to get you started.
I also highly recommend and, you know, the stand to charge your phone out of your bedroom. And I say Dan knows this for people who did not see us work together because he has a charging station in his closet or at least in your old closet, which is part of the phone breakup process that I recommend people go through is if you have your phone within arm's reach, then it's within arm's reach. Far better to charge it somewhere out of reach, ideally not in the bedroom, so that you actually have to get up and go to the phone.
And for me, I charge it in a closet myself. I don't forbid myself from checking my phone once it's charging. I just have to get up and go to the closet and it's physically kind of uncomfortable. And so I just don't spend as much time there as for before bed. I mean, she's our phones are so stimulating. There's so much content that is designed to keep you scrolling and keep you awake, not to mention the light from the phone itself.
So if you want to sleep well, which is always important, but even more important during pandemic times, both for your sanity and also for your immune system, then you don't want to have something that's designed to keep you up with you right before you're trying to go to sleep. Final recommendation that I wanted to discuss with you is these are your words, remember that you're more than a head sitting on a body.
It's so easy to forget that it's so easy to forget that we actually have entire physical bodies, but they are really important and they also have a lot to tell us about how we're doing mentally and. This goes to what you're talking about with zoom fatigue, part of zoom fatigue is just from sitting all day. Sitting is horrible for us, horrible for our health. It's also not fun. And I think that it's too easy to just forget that you have a physical body that can move and walk and dance and play.
And once you tap back into that, you'll often people are surprised by how much they didn't realize they were missing that. I think that's especially true for kids were so concerned about what they're going to learn skill wise in terms of intellectual things that we forget that movement is incredibly important for the pleasure of it, and also because we tend to learn better when we're moving. And there's just a lot of positive things that happen when our bodies are in motion.
We're not designed to just sit and think all the time.
Much more of my conversation with Catherine Price right after this. 10 percent happier is supported by better help online counseling. We're in extraordinary times, and if you're struggling with stress, anxiety or depression, you're not alone. Better Help offers online licensed professional counselors who are trained to listen and help simply fill out a questionnaire and get matched with a counselor in under 48 hours. Join more than a million people taking charge of their mental health with better help. Better help is an affordable option.
And our listeners get 10 percent off your first month with a discount code happier. Get started today at better help. Dotcom slash happier. That's better. H e l.p dotcom shapir. So yet again, you've brought us right up to the threshold of the subject of fun, so let's go there. Why and how did you become interested in fun?
How did I become interested in fun, as I guess is becoming obvious? It was a direct offshoot of my interest in having a better relationship with my phone and developing what I call better screen life balance. And it really came from the fact that when you remove something from your life or cut back on something in your life that you had been spending a lot of time on, you're going to be left with a lot of extra time. I think I touched upon this the last time you and I spoke, but when I was breaking up with my phone for the first time.
And to clarify, that does not mean dumping. It just means creating a healthier relationship. I just remember having this time when I was I decided not to be on my phone or any screens, and I was alone. My daughter was asleep. My husband was out. And I was like, this should be any parent's dream, an hour of time that I can do whatever I want with. And I couldn't think of anything to do. And that was a horrible revelation because I like to think of myself as someone who lives life fully and has interests and has passions.
As my college roommate used to talk about, she had a goal of being interesting and interested. And I was like, oh my goodness, I have somehow I don't feel like I am that anymore. And that really prompted a bit of an existential crisis for me. But that in turn prompted me to really think about, well, what do I want to spend my time on? Because I, even with my background in mindfulness, have been allowing apps and algorithms to fill my time for me.
And that is not how I want to live my life. And for me, that resulted in me signing up for guitar classes because I play piano and I supposably always wanted to learn guitar but never had time for it. And that changed my life like I even since last you and I spoke. So I started taking classes. I began to learn new skills in the guitar. This introduced me to a whole community of adults just having fun together. And I started to realize that that was what I had been missing.
I had been missing this sense of being engaged and carefree and totally myself free of my adult responsibilities. And for me, music has been the number one way for me to tap into that. I feel like I'm a completely different person from where I was. I guess that was three or four years ago when I first had that existential moment. And I've also realized that there's other things that I can learn about or do. The world is just full of fascinating things.
That sounds like a stupid thing to say because obviously it is. But like I even after spending years writing about this phone stuff, hadn't really fully interrogated myself about, like, what else do I want to learn beyond music? Like, what else could I get interested in? And this has resulted in all sorts of like random pursuits over the past couple of months, for example, becoming becoming interested in clouds. I was like, there's cloud there been around my whole life.
I mean, obviously my whole life in Iraq. I don't know anything about clouds. Maybe I should learn about clouds. And that might seem kind of like silly, but how much less silly or more silly is that than looking at Instagram? I mean, now I know about clouds and now I've taught my daughter about clouds and she will come up to me and say, I think that's a cumulous nimbus. I'm like, yes, it is. And and that is a little dose of fun.
Anyway, all I think what I'm trying to say is that when I realized I had empty time as a result of spending less time on my devices, I freaked out because I didn't know what to do with that time. Then I started trying to figure out what I wanted to do at that time. And what I realized is that what I want to fill my leisure time with as much as possible is this feeling of true fun.
I have at a similar interest recently, not in clouds, but in trees. Yes, trees, the over story. My husband read that.
Yeah, it's unbelievable. I've rhapsodized about it on the show before, so I'll keep my mouth shut. But it's amazing. You said a few moments ago that.
I'm a completely different person or I'm a different person in many ways, this was in conjunction to your guitar adventures.
What do you mean by that? It sounds really dramatic, and I guess I should back up and say I don't actually think I'm a new person or a different person, I think I got back in touch with who I actually am. So maybe it was more of just a rediscovery of who I am and who I want to be. I don't want to be someone who sits in front of her computer for eight to 10 hours a day and just compulsively checks email until I die.
That doesn't sound like I don't want that on my tombstone. Like she she achieved inbox zero. That's like first of all, I won't. But even if I were to, I think I really just. Kind of remember that, like I used to have passions, I used to laugh a lot not to say that my life was devoid of laughter or devoid of fun or pleasure or meanness certainly wasn't. But I just realized that my balance was out of whack.
And actually now I'm remembering one of the other triggers was that I'd read a book called Designing Your Life, which I highly recommend by these two Stanford design professors about applying design principles to crafting a joyful and meaningful life. And one of the exercises they have to do is to measure their their life in terms of where they live. Imagine you've got fuel gauges in work, love, health play. And I remember thinking, OK, I'm great on love.
I'm great on how? Well, pretty great on health. Have got type one diabetes, great on work, but play my play gauge is at zero. How did that happen. Like how do what do I do about that.
And I remember like torturing my husband over this, he was like, oh God, are we really talking about the play gauge again? I'm like, yes, I edited my play gauge. It's empty. And and I think that that is because, you know, as you become an adult and you get older, like more and more responsibilities creep in and even things that are wonderful and objectively good, like having a kid or having a career you love, they still take the place of other things you used to do and you're more carefree times.
And they also bring added weight and added responsibility. And it's really easy to just let those things that kind of light you up start to fade away because there's so many I mean, similar to how the apps fill your time, there's so many responsibilities to start to fill your time as an adult. And I think that you start to lose. The play your playfulness and that it really requires a conscious effort to carve out the time and space to bring that back in, but I think what I realized is that doing that is one of the most meaningful and important things we can do for ourselves and not at all.
I mean, it is selfish, but selfish in the best of ways, because it means that your own reserves are going to be filled up so that you'll have more to give to everybody else in your life as well.
So given that you are who you are, you didn't only. Wake up to this idea and you know. Executed in a half hearted way, you went at it and you started this thing called the Fun Squad, which rolled me in not because you called me and said, hey, do this thing, but because I saw it on an email and I thought, oh, it struck a chord for me. Just as the paragraphs you just uttered struck a chord with me about how there's something missing, at least for me in my own life.
So can you tell us about the fun squad?
When I was writing How to break up with Your Phone, I recruited this group of people I called guinea pigs to try out my ideas as I was trying to build this 30 day plan to help people rebuild a healthier relationship with technology. And it was really cool and very moving, honestly, to see people's feedback through that process and to realize how many people were struggling with the same things. And also to realize that at our core, most people want the exact same things out of life.
And I thought, well, I want to do something similar with fun, because one thing that's very obvious to me is that different people have different interpretations of fun. Something that's fun for you might not be fun at all for me or some of, you know, there's individual differences. And I wanted to learn more about that. I wanted to test out what I was, propose universal definition of fun, and then try to tease out what I've been calling fun factors, which are individual situations or people or characteristics of experiences that bring fun to particular people.
So in other words, tease out the differences in our definitions of what fun is. And yes, I recruited this fun squad and it's still ongoing. People can sign up for a screen life balance dotcom if they want to ask those questions and to try out some of my ideas. And I have to say it's just it has been so fun and so wonderful to read through people's responses. One of the things I asked, as you know, Dan, is for people to reflect on past experience is that they would describe as quote unquote, so fun.
And I can talk about why I put that so in there. And when I read through people's experiences of like the most fun memories of their lives, it just it actually brings tears to my eyes. There's something truly beautiful and joyful about reading through response after response of what people experienced when they felt this particular, I guess, emotion. Yeah. So one of the things you've done that's really interesting is to break fun down into its component parts and then build up to a definition.
Can you walk us through that?
Sure. First, I think one of the problems with the word fun is that there's no agreed upon definition, which is fascinating. I mean, if you look at the dictionary, you're going to find that it's like lighthearted enjoyment. But you'll also find making fun of people which are I mean, those are totally different. And I would say it's not the fun that I'm talking about. And if you try to look into the scholarly research about fun, you'll find things like one guy said, it's a book about fun.
I mean, granted, this is a book called Puritan's at Play. So how fun can that really be? But in this book, this guy is like the definition of fun is, quote, maddeningly elusive. And I read that and I was like, dude, you're writing a book about fun and you can't define it like, oh, boy, this is both a big problem, but also like a pretty cool opportunity to try to figure out what it is.
I also came across there not very many, but scholarly articles about fun, and several of them said that, I mean, at least as of twenty seventeen, the authors of these articles couldn't find fun in the index of any social psychology book, which is fascinating because at the same time, it's often described as like a primal state like that. Everybody knows what fun is viscerally, and then it's important to animals and people alike. So I was trying to figure out, OK, how can I possibly break this down into parts?
And I realized one of the challenges is we use fun in our everyday speech. Very broadly, you'll say, oh, I watched that movie for fun. I read books for fun. I went out for drinks for fun. But if you ask people what they really, truly experience as a peak fun moment in their lives, it's not going to be watching Netflix. It's not going to be reading a book. It's probably going to be something involving a shared experience with other people or with another creature.
And it's probably going to be something. Well, I would say it will be something where they lost track of time, where they felt completely engaged and present and not distracted. And there's going to be some element of playfulness and lightheartedness. You just can't care too much about what's happening when you're having fun. Once you start to add that weight to it, it's not fun. So when I thought about it and researched it and then. Came up with the definition for myself.
I came up with a definition that fun in the way that I use it means playful, connected flow, the playfulness that just talked about, which is that you just can't have weight to it and you also can't be self conscious. You need to be in a sense of freedom and often a sense of being outside of your normal existence, which often happens. I've been reading a lot of literature about play. When you are in a state of play, you're kind of separate from your normal reality.
Now, the connection, it's really surprising how often there are other people, as I said, because I also ask people in this fun squad surveys, do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? Like where are you on a scale from one to seven of those two? And can you have fun alone? Nearly everyone said that they thought they could have fun alone. And then I had a wide range for the introvert extrovert. But when I asked people what surprised them about the experiences they described as truly fun, many people said, I'm really surprised by how often they included other people.
You know, I think of myself as an introvert, but nearly all the experiences I just describe for you, because I asked them to describe the experiences before asking them involved other people. So I do think it's possible to have fun alone, but most of the time there is another person or another creature you feel a connection with. I also think you can feel connected to your physical body. Going back to what we were talking about before, about not just being heads on bodies, we actually are full creatures.
So if you're in an extreme sport or you're challenging yourself physically and you have a sense that that was really fun, it's probably because you really felt a connection and integration between all the parts of yourself and sometimes is with the activity itself or something with nature or the environment that you're in that you feel is kind of fusing together the sense of connection. And that kind of overlaps a bit with the last part of the definition, which is flow. And there's a psychological term coined by this guy.
She sent me hi, this Hungarian guy whose name is always written out as Cheek's sent me. Hi. Whenever ever anyone who does not speak Hungarian tries to pronounce it. So hopefully I'm not butchering that. And that is a state in which you're completely engaged and present and lose track of time. You can think about like an athlete who's in the middle of playing a game or even right now, like in a conversation where I'm fully focused on what we're discussing and reality doesn't seem to exist beyond this.
That's called a state of flow. So when you put all those three things together, I believe you achieve what I'm calling true fun. And what I think is really interesting is all three of those states are positive. It's great if you can build a life that's more playful, more connected or has more flow, you're succeeding. It doesn't really you don't need to have all three of those together. But if you have all three of those together, something really magical happens, and that is when I believe you have fun.
So I'm trying to think about I'm sure everybody's doing this thinking about my own life and like, what qualifies here? You know, I'm pretty sure.
Have been able to do this because of the pandemic, that when I get together with friends and play music, that's got all the component parts, I'm thinking.
More about I have been able to have socially distanced outside gatherings with friends, which are incredibly meaningful to me during the summer, and I find them to be really fun, but I don't know that they meet all of the component parts.
What do you think? Well, why do you think they don't? Well. Maybe they do definitely connected, whether it's playful in any given moment depends on what we're talking about or what we're doing. So if we're swimming or something like that or playing a game with the kids, maybe it is playful. And the flow, the sort of losing track of time also is connected to sort of what's happening in that moment, connected the whole time. But I may swing in and out of states of flow and playfulness.
Yeah. And I think that that's well, first of all, is fine, because all three of those results in a great experience. I would going to guess that it's more playful than you might even interpret, because I found that that was one part of the definition when I was testing that definition out with people that they sometimes didn't think applied as much because it wasn't specifically a game that they were engaged in or they weren't specifically doing something that you'd be like, let's play, you know.
But I would say like what we're doing right now is playful, like I'm having fun doing this because, you know, I don't know, like everyone knows that I've got a sheet behind me. I think, like, you know, as far as where it's like not taking it too seriously and it's fun and we're bantering and getting to talk about something I at least find really interesting. That's the playfulness. So if you're engaged in a conversation, even if you're in like a political debate with a friend, but you're both on that, you know, you haven't crossed the line to where it's actually getting heated and you're angry at each other, but you're challenging each other.
That's still playfulness. And you can see that with animals, if you see like animals like play fighting, they can get pretty close to actually fighting, but they know when to back off. And that's the sense of play I'm talking about. I should also clarify, I don't think you can just, like, have fun. I don't think you can say, like, today I'm going to have fun at four p.m. It's quite elusive. It's kind of like romance where if you try to force it, it's not going to happen.
And it's also similar to happiness in that way. I would say, like we obsess so much. I mean, as you know, like about how do I be happy? But being is not a very helpful verb. Just is like having fun, I think is a little bit more helpful because it's a little bit more active to have fun versus like I want to be happy. Well, great. I mean, like I want to be taller.
I have no way to do that. That's not like an action of local. So I think instead what what I encourage all of us to do is try to set the stage for fun, to know what the parts of fun are. And in a broad sense, I'm arguing that that's playful, connected flow. And to use those almost as a compass are like a guiding star so that when you're making decisions in the moment about how to spend your time and this ties back to what we're talking about with leisure time and we're screens fall into it, ask yourself, does this feel fun?
Does this feel like it's going to be an opportunity for playfulness or connection or flow? And if it doesn't and you have the option, say no to it and actually can be a really useful compass that can guide you toward a life that I believe will be more joyful and meaningful and fun without trying to force it too much. You said before that in your research around this, you really got the sense that people, even the introverts, were having trouble finding examples of true fun or so fun that didn't involve other people.
Can you have fun alone? And what would that look like? I think that certain people can have fun alone. I've got a friend who's a bit of an introvert, really creative, incredibly talented, and actually I'm one of the same during my obsession over my play age. We were on a weekend trip together with a bunch of other people, and he went off into the woods and he built this Andy Goldsworthy kind of like structure out of rocks in a stream.
He like froze these rocks together to create this cool bridge and. To me, that would have been like being creative, but not necessarily fun, but I actually truly believe that, John, that was a fun experience, that he felt really connected, that he was being playful and he was in flow. And I have read some examples from the fun squad anecdotes people have shared where I'm like, yeah, I think that that spirit is the same as what I'm describing and trying to get at me personally.
My most fun is going to be with other people. I can have some degree of fun on my own, but my peak fun experiences personally all involve other people.
Mm hmm. Me too. You've got this acronym SPARK. What is what is that?
I was trying to figure out how you actually coax more fun into your life without attacking it directly. Right. Because. Yeah, if you aim too hard at it, it's just not going to happen, like if you force fun and we all know that someone's really trying to get you to play a game or something, you're like, I don't want to play this stupid game. And it's like not fun. I'm also often sneaks up on us, so how do we sneak up on fun?
And so I was trying to think about things we could do that would be a little bit more concrete than playfulness and connection and flow to achieve playfulness, connection and flow. And I came up with this acronym Spark, which I can go through quickly the S's for making space for it. You've got to have space in your life mentally and also physically, actually to allow some fun to happen. I mean, that can be in terms of your own stress levels, like trying to clear out a bit of your responsibility so that you can actually allow yourself to be free.
I think then your stress levels will it's self reinforcing. The more fun you have, the less stress you're going to feel. But you got to think of a bit of an effort to begin with and also like reducing distractions, because as we've discussed, we have distraction machines in our pockets at all times. You're going to have to figure out how to create some actual space so that you can be fully present in your own life because any distraction is anathema to flow and flow is required for fun.
So put those two things together. You've got to have fewer distractions. The P is for pursue passions and it goes back to what we were speaking about in terms of actually having something that you're interested in and that makes you interesting and that is very active. And I think that that is what distinguishes the type of fun I'm talking about from more passive consumption, like just watching a movie or scrolling through your phone, which might be relaxing or enjoyable, but is not really fun.
And that's something that I think you can do even in times when you can't have that type of human connection. You might want to like when you're in lockdown or when you can't be in a room with other people, you can still find things that interest you or skills you could develop that then will set you up so that you can hit the ground running when you actually are able to interact more with people. The aim is for attract fun. So become kind of like an attractive person when it comes to fun.
One of the questions I ask and the fun squad is for people to describe someone that they know who's fun and just look at the characteristics of those people. And a lot of it does seem to come down to a mindset like a fun mindset is what I'm thinking of it as where you're just open to experiences, you're open to spontaneity. You take a playful approach to things. You try to find the lighthearted angle to any experience that you're having. And I also mean that you can actually create structures for fun.
You can actually create an environment that makes it more likely that fun will be attracted to it. Kind of like a salt lick for a deer where it's like, for example, one one anecdote someone shared with me about one of their fun experiences is this pie competition they've been doing for the past five years. Weirdly, to separate. People told me about pie competitions and I don't think they know each other. But it was this elaborate thing where there was a structure to it.
It was a contest that had brackets like March Madness for the best pie flavors. People got really, really involved in it and took it very seriously. They made impassioned speeches for like butter pecan or whatever, like their preferred. Is that a pie flavor? I don't have diabetes in a pipe, but, you know, whatever it might be. And everyone had fun because that structure of this contest, the absurdity of it, allowed people to become more playful and to let go a little bit because they understood what the rules were.
So it's a weird, weird thought to have that you could create a structure for something spontaneous or playful. But you can. And then the R is for Rebelle and Spark. And that, I realized, is because we're just I mean, the escape from responsibilities is really a big part of this. And so many people describe that when they're having true fun, they feel this lightness in the sense that they're escaping from their normal life. So I just was thinking like, how do you build in more opportunities for that in your normal life in a way that's not I'm not talking about rebellion, like go do, but like cocaine or something.
I'm talking about like the example it always comes to mind for me is I feel a responsibility. Listen to the news on the radio because I'm a responsible adult in the car, but maybe I don't need to do that. And maybe I can actually just turn on a song I loved when I was in high school. And I can sing along loudly in the privacy of the car and not have to be an adult for a minute. That is weirdly and surprisingly rejuvenating.
And so just these little opportunities to step out of your normal, even if it's something like don't follow the Google ladies directions, just go a different direction or take a five minute detour, anything, it really doesn't take much, which is kind of sad, but it doesn't take much to have this sense of playful rebellion. And the last one is K, which is keep at it. I mean, similarly to breaking up with your phone, if you go through the process, you are not done with mindfulness.
Right? You're not like I meditated for thirty minutes today. I am done, I have achieved Zen or whatever. You have to keep at it. You have to actually keep it a priority and keep working at it and continue to carve out space for this. Because if you don't, the rest of life is just going to flow right back in and take the space that you had tried to create for it, I actually think is crucial.
The keeping at it, it really goes to one of the core.
Insights for me that has been so impactful in my own life and a huge part of the work I do is that these things that we want in our life, or at least that we say we want in our life, fun being among them, but also gratitude, connection, happiness, whatever. These are all skills in many ways. And I hadn't until I saw your fun squad thing come into my inbox when I was probably doing scrolling or scrolling.
I hadn't thought about fun as a something you can cultivate in your life and be systematic about. And I think that's such an incredible idea. And and I do wonder a little bit for myself and for others. OK, well, if I'm putting this on my to do list or if I'm making a project of this, am I sucking all the fun out of it by putting some stress in that way?
Yeah, that's a question I've gotten from other people, too, is like, OK, now it's on my to do list and now I'm just stressed out more and I feel worse about myself. So that goes back to the you know, you don't want to beat yourself up for fun. I mean, come on. It was like the worst thing. If you're like, oh my God, I'm failing to fine. In addition to everything else in my life, I'm just going to scroll some more.
That's not our intention. So I think you really need to be kind to yourself in this. And really almost like despite the fact this whole thing is about having more fun, don't think about fun, Persay. Think about this concept of playfulness and connection and flow and what exercise I encourage people to do through. The Fun Squad, which was directly inspired by the book design in your life, is to create what I call a fun Times journal, which is to regulate.
And actually, you know what? Going back to what we're talking about before, when you put your phone out of reach before bed, what are you going to do with that time? Well, one thing you could do is have a sheet of journal prompts for just a blank piece of paper and just jot down some of the things you did during your day. This also connects to what you're talking about in terms of mindfulness, an awareness of your your moment to moment existence and say, OK, like, what did I do?
And then how did it make me feel? And actually make that into a ritual for yourself and a practice, for example, I might say, OK, I woke up and I check my email like, OK, that might have been I mean, honestly, was it necessary? I don't know.
It's not like people nothing's going to burn if I don't check my email like that, didn't feel playful or connected or flow or if it did feel flow, it didn't feel like a good flow to me, then maybe I spent time with my daughter. Like, how did that feel? Then I maybe practiced music. How did that feel? I talked to a friend. I went for a walk, whatever it may be. And just note in particular, if any of those activities or people or physical environments gave you a sense of playfulness, connection or flow or just a positive sense.
And if so, just indicate that. And if you happen to experience more than one of those things, indicate that. And if you experience all three of them, like put a big circle around it, because that's the type of thing you should be aware of so that you can, again, orient yourself towards that sort of experience in the future. Will you be able to replicate it perfectly so that you experience the same degree of whatever degree of fun that you had?
Probably not. But if you build more of those types of experiences into your life, you were up in your chances that you'll slip into that. So that that, I think, is a great practice for people to start with and a way to make it seem like less burdensome. I mean, just again, we don't need more burdens. Another thing I found to be really useful for people was this practice of noticing delight. A friend of mine had told me about a book called The Book of Delights by a poet named Ross Gay.
And even before reading his book, my friend and I, my friend Vanessa and I had developed this kind of game, the two of us, where we would just notice delight, things that delighted us in our lives. Anything like a pretty tree, I don't know. We didn't take much. Anything was remotely delightful. And you stick a finger in the air and you go delight with a little wag because that's what he describes in his book. And we were laughing about how.
Good, that made us feel compared to another game that she and I are perhaps more dispositional, prone to be like anxiety, you know, like negative bias, like we could have done that. Fearful things causing fear. But that a version. A version. Exactly. But when you orient towards delight, I mean, it really made a difference and it just makes you smile to do it. And then I actually read his book and in his book, which I highly recommend and I recommend if you I don't know if you've interviewed him, but you totally should interview him.
He puts in parentheses these things that delight him and he puts delight with an exclamation point and talks about how his own experience noticing delight, because this man the premise of the book is he spent an entire year trying to write an essay a day about something that delighted him. Yeah, but he talks about how the more you notice the light, the more delight reveals itself to you. And he also says he's not trying to make light of the world.
I mean, he talks about a lot of very weighty things in the book. But with that said, just because the world is weighty doesn't mean you can't also experience and find delight. And so I encourage people in the fun squad to take this practice on themselves and just notice things that sparked a tiny sense of delight and then label them ideally with his finger. And it's been so cool to see the results of this. I've got random strangers emailing me photos of things that delighted them.
I've heard of friends who now have text chains and some of which I'm on that are delight chains and you just send things and then delight with an exclamation point. And it's been absolutely lovely. And to me it's kind of an offshoot of a gratitude practice, you know, where the traditional practice, which has been validated in positive psychology, is having a mood boosting effect of noticing or being conscious of things you're grateful for. But after a while that can, I don't know, feel a bit like a burden or a little it's just seems a little harder to me than being like, oh, look at that bird delight.
You know, it's just a little bit easier and delightful. And I think it is that the light mindset also opens you up to the possibility for more playfulness, which in turn will get you into situations that you experience as true fun.
And I think you could do both in gratitude, as a trainable skills compelling to me, and just adding delight on as an adjunct or replacement or whatever practice. That sounds great. Yeah, because we we tend to gloss over these things in our lives because we're running through our To-Do list or our enemies lists or whatever it is. And we're not seeing like that cardinal that just flew through the yard or whatever it is. Yeah, and you don't say that because I saw Cardinal this morning.
Oh nice. When was doing that. Right now. Since you you're in a closet closet. No, that would be that would be perhaps a problem. But, you know, also all the algorithms that we're exposed to every day are not geared towards delight. So I think that it's actually a very proactive, important thing to do to protect ourselves. So it's not just a delightful practice. It's actually quite self protective, because I can guarantee you the front page of your favorite newspaper is not geared towards any kind of delight.
It's there to stimulate some more amygdala driven emotion like fear or anger, social media as well. And so we need to fight back. And I think one way to do that, which interestingly you can do on some of these channels that might otherwise stress us out, is to proactively seek out and label and share delight. That is my treatise on the life. This whole interview has been excellent and useful and a delight, actually, I feel the same.
So before we go, can you plug everything you've got going, including the fun zone? Because I think people might be interested in joining it. I did it and I got a lot out of it. Sure.
Yes. So if anyone's interested in joining the fun squad, I've got it going on. Squad. Sorry, but you know what? You're in the fun zone, Dan. I'm in the plug zone zone zone. Although I feel like I should have something like that bounces and maybe like a ball pit. And that's very not pandemic friendly or possible at the moment. So fun squad, you can sign up on screen life balance, dotcom. That also is the home where I put all of the resources I've developed.
I've got a lot of free stuff on there, like a three day phone breakup challenge, a conversation starting can't if you're an educator, a lot of teachers have been using how to break up with their phones. Speaking of online remote education, been so cool to hear from teachers who have been using it as part of their curriculum. So I created special resources for teachers and for book clubs and for people who have someone in their life whose relationship is causing them stress, because I feel like a couples therapist a lot of the time.
So I've also created a social media detox course for people who are struggling with that in particular. And I was struggling myself to figure out how can I possibly have a social media presence. I don't care about social media, about my book agent thinks that's a horrible thing for an author to say. I was like, how can I reconcile my hatred of social media with my need to have a social media presence? So I created social media, things that are designed to get you off of social media and you can find those also on the website screen life balance.
But there's some version of screen life balance on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter that you can follow and you'll get messages like it's Sunday morning. How much of it do you want to spend on your phone? Or like life is short, how much do you want to spend on Instagram? And I've heard them described as being like a, quote, cold shower, which in this context is one of the highest compliments anyone could pay to me.
A great job with this. Thank you so much.
Oh, thank you, Dan. It is always a pleasure. Big thanks to Katherine, big thanks as well to everybody who worked so hard to make this show a 2.5 per week reality. Samuel Jones is our senior producer. Marisa Schneiderman is our producer. Our sound designers are Matt Boynton. And on Nashik from Ultraviolet Audio, Maria Wartell is our production coordinator. We got a ton of unbelievably helpful input from our colleagues such as Ben Rubin, Jen Point, Liz Lemon and Toby.
And, of course, big thank you to my ABC News comrades Ryan Kessner and Josh Cohen. We'll see you on Friday for a bonus meditation.