Select And Collect

Half Mag / Half Zine

I hesitate to suggest what anyone else ought to be doing to stay on an even keel, psychologically, in these frightening times – partly because I don’t always manage it myself, but also because any such advice tends to turn into yet another item for the to-do list. You’ve noticed, for example, how quickly all those online yoga classes and Zoom cocktail gatherings, intended to add some lightness to lockdown, began to feel vaguely like a chore. (You’re not imagining “Zoom fatigue”: experts say video conversations really are more tiring.) Likewise, “self-care” practices easily turn into new duties, so people end up forcing themselves to be kind to themselves, which doesn’t make much sense.

This is why what I think we probably ought to be doing, to whatever extent possible, is having more fun. Not meditation or gratitude journalling or jogging (unless you find those fun). Not things you think are supposed to be fun. I mean the things you actually find fun. This distinction matters, partly for the aforementioned reason that self-care, however important, isn’t synonymous with fun. But it’s also because in the modern attention economy, all sorts of things – celebrity memoirs, bad new TV dramas, expensive consumer goods – want you to believe they’re the funnest thing you could be doing. Conceivably, for any given person, they might be. But true fun – “deep fun”, as the fun scholar Bernie De Koven called it – is a subtle and personal thing, and not necessarily in anyone else’s commercial interests.

To be clear, I’m not advising that you consciously try to spread fun; that always backfires. I just mean having fun, and thereby adding to the planetary quotient of fun. For me, in recent weeks, that’s meant taking very hot baths, listening to old Ricky Gervais podcasts, banging out piano-rock tunes in a mediocre fashion, and reading philosophy books. (Not all at once.) I’m aware this might make me sound like an unrelatable dork, but that’s a clue: one way to reconnect to fun might be to ask what you do that would make others think that about you. I think often about last year’s revelation that Sir Rod Stewart has been at work for decades on an intricate model railway layout of a 1940s American city, requesting an additional hotel room for it when he went on tour. It’s a hobby so at odds with the image of a gravel-voiced rock star that you know he must do it out of love.

Alternatively, ask yourself Carl Jung’s question: “What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes?” And, in fact, this doubles as useful parenting advice for those who find themselves spending much more time with small children at the moment: consider selecting activities based on what you – not the kids – would find most fun. (“You can only have fun helping other people have fun if you’re having fun doing it,” as De Koven put it.) Surprisingly frequently, it works.

Oh, and there are numerous studies showing that fun will help your relationships and health – lowering stress, boosting intelligence and the capacity to learn. But if I said much more about them, I’d risk encouraging you to seek fun for those reasons, rather than because it’s fun. Deep fun is its own justification. And only you can know, for sure, what counts for you.