Science Says, “Have Fun!”

I recently spoke to a smart and talented young man. I asked him, “How are you?” He explained he’s not in a great place and can’t really figure out why he’s been so negative. He thinks it’s due to high levels of stress and anxiety. In addition, he mentioned that he was lacking motivation and had low energy.  He said, “The best word to describe how I am is ‘burned out.’”

Maybe you feel just like this guy. You’re feeling irritable. You’re short-tempered. The thoughts in your head are more negative than usual. The best medicine for such a state is fun. Doing something you enjoy is a ticket out of despair. You may worry that if you stop for even a moment, something important will fall through the cracks. It’s a lot of pressure. Let me assure you that you can actually stop and have some fun.

Give Your Brain a Break

Your prefrontal cortex—that part of your brain that does the thinking, concentrating, and executive functioning—has a lot of responsibility. You love using your prefrontal cortex because it’s where you’re comfortable because you’re smart and capable. However, this part of your brain needs a rest. In fact, studies have shown that allowing it a rest has many benefits for you. Giving your thinking brain a break can help you make better decisions, boost your memory, restore your motivation, increase productivity and enhance creativity. 

As you know, new problems pop up on a daily basis. The demands on you keep increasing. A break is exactly what you need to be a better leader and to keep yourself sane and happy in the process.

Block off small amounts of time each day for a little fun. Block off a few hours each week. Give your mind a break and enjoy yourself. You’re sure to see any stressful situation differently, feel more relaxed and have more energy to get back to work.

You can Have Fun at Work 

Burnout is a big health concern especially today among healthcare workers. Burnout is the response to chronic stressors in your life. It shows up as exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of detachment. Some researchers have considered engagement as the opposite of burnout. 

Engagement, on the other hand, consists of feeling energized, having a strong involvement in work, and a sense that you’re doing a good job. You’re emotionally involved in what you’re doing and it may even feel like time flies by as you work. 

Like you, I’ve been putting in many hours at work. At the end of a twelve-hour day which was the end of many days in a row, something fun happened. One of my favorite patients came in and said, “I need you to do me a favor.” For some reason, this struck me as really funny. It was the juxtaposition of my having done so many favors getting people appointments for Covid immunizations while keeping up with the other demands of my job, and her not knowing this and innocently asking me to do one more thing. 

She had an agenda: she wanted her prescription filled really fast so that she could leave to go on vacation. I had an agenda: I wanted to do no more favors. I wanted to sit down for a minute instead. There we were, the two of us with opposite agendas. 

In that moment, I was overcome with the desire to dance. So, I said, “OK, I will do you a favor, but first I gotta dance.” I proceeded to do a little dance. She said, “Oh, now I want to dance.” She proceeded to do a little dance on the opposite side of the counter. The two of us, separated by plexi-glass and agendas, came together for one moment to dance. 

I filled her prescription rather quickly. She headed off to her beach vacation, and I went back to work. I still feel the good vibes of that moment. 

Fun is Essential to Survival

If you’re really stuck in a funk, you might need some convincing that something as frivolous as fun is the answer to your woes. There’s evidence that having fun is something that human beings need in order to remain alive. Human beings are wired to like things that are essential to continuing the species. For example, look at having sex. We have sex because it’s fun, but really, it’s essential to our very survival. If sex wasn’t enjoyable, we may forget to do it. Nature has set it up that we humans seek out things that ensure that we carry on. Fun is also enjoyable, so there must be something about fun that is essential to our survival. 

When you enjoy doing an activity, it makes you want to devote more time and energy to that activity. A key component of fun is reward, which is the reason you want to come back for more. Your brain sends a “feel-good” chemical, dopamine, through your body to tell you to keep doing that activity. You could even say that your body is hardwired for fun. So don’t forget to embrace the fun in your life. If you find reading up on this stuff is fun, here is a link for you.

Your brain needs a break, you’re wired to have fun, and having a good time makes you a better leader. Who are you to argue with the science? 

If you need help finding your fun, I covered that in my previous post. You can read that here.

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