Woman having fun while painting.

Breaking Through the Fun Barrier

I have a confession to make. It’s hard to admit, but I am a “fun-challenged” individual. 

Years ago at a seminar, we were asked to rate our satisfaction with the amount of fun in our lives and I had the dubious distinction of having the lowest score of 2/10. Even now, I’d give myself a 3/10 satisfaction with the fun in my life. What the heck!?

The ironic part of this is that I am a coach and I know the wide-ranging benefits of fun and play, which are crucial elements of self-care. Having fun generates a flood of feel-good chemicals that boost mood and improve health of the body, mind and spirit. While play enhances productivity and creativity. 

Here are four fun-tastic neurotransmitters that are activated simply by having a good time:

  • Endorphins – act as natural pain relievers, stress reducers and enhance pleasure
  • Dopamine – plays a role in improving focus, motivation and learning
  • Serotonin – makes us feel happy, regulates sleep, reduces anxiety and helps with memory
  • Oxytocin – associated with social bonding and trust, leads to better connections with others and strengthens relationships

Knowing the powerful effects of fun on well-being, who wouldn’t want to jump right in? So why am I not at the edge of the fun pool, ready to dive into the deep end of those feel-good hormones? 

I have a few ideas about that. Firstly, I’m prone to bouts of depression and anxiety. When just getting through life is like wading through molasses with weighted boots, nothing feels fun. It’s not surprising that I’d find it hard connecting to fun and play when in that state. Yet, even when I’m not slogging through the pit of despair, fun still eludes me. I resist fun and I suspect I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Barriers to fun could be:

  • Attitude towards ourselves – am I deserving of fun?
  • Attitudes about fun – do I embrace fun, or consider it non-productive and foolish?
  • Attitudes about time – do I believe that I never have enough time for fun? What am I prioritizing instead?
  • Personality – do I have a perfectionistic ideal of what fun should be?
  • Mental health issues – are anxiety or depression playing a factor in my capacity for play?
  • Confusion – what the heck is fun for me anyway?

Do a quick check-in to see where you are on the fun-finding spectrum. Which one of the following resonates with you most?

  • I know exactly what’s fun for me and I do it on a regular basis

(Amazing! Keep doing that!)

  • I know what gives me that fun feeling but I’m resistant to scheduling it in for some reason

(You are halfway there! I encourage you to explore some of the causes for resistance—you may try journaling, talking it out with a friend, or working through it with a coach or therapist)

  • I miss having fun but I’m not even sure what lights me up anymore

(Keep reading! We’ve got a process for you to follow!)

Probing a bit deeper into your own fun barriers gives you valuable insight into what is stopping you from skipping down the yellow brick road to fun. In the meantime, pinpointing exactly what you are skipping towards is a great first step.

So what lights you up? Let’s explore it together. You’ll need a pen and paper to work through the steps! 

  1. What does fun mean to you?

As a young adult, I was often dragged out for a “fun” evening at a bar or a party. While my friends seemed to be having a lot of fun—me, not so much. I would have been much happier putting my spices in alphabetical order, which would probably be the epitome of boredom for many of my friends!

When trying to sort out where “fun” sits on a spectrum, I put it a notch above enjoyment and a notch below euphoria. Something that is novel, takes me out of my routine and gives me a sense of lightness and excitement. What about you?

  • Consider where your idea of fun sits on the spectrum
  • Write down the first thing that comes to your mind when you think FUN (it could be a statement or a series of descriptive words)
  • Be open to all your wacky and not-so-wacky concepts
  1. Revisit a slice of your childhood.

I remember spending long hours huddled on the linoleum floor of my childhood bedroom making handmade cards for my family. I also have memories of spirited board game action at our summer cottage. Girl Guide scavenger hunts, orienteering and campcraft activities used to rev me up. 

As children, we gravitate to experiences that are instinctively pleasurable. Our childhood memories of fun experiences are great clues to what we naturally enjoy. Honestly, as I list my favourite past activities, I can see myself doing any one of them right now. 

  • Take a trip down memory lane and gather up a list of 10 fun experiences 
  • Stay curious about how these activities relate to things you enjoy doing now
  1. Capture the feels!

Creating art in my room put me into a realm of calm engagement. I was relaxed, peaceful and in flow. Game-playing triggered the thrill of competition, the satisfaction of using my brain, and the comfort of bonding. With my giggly friends, I felt lightness and abandon. Across all of these activities, I felt a sense of connection.

Having fun is a complex activity with complex emotions. Each of us can experience different emotions in even the same circumstances. For some people, board games may bring up stress or anxiety! 

  • How did the childhood activities listed in step 2 make you feel?  
  • Write those emotions in a list

This list will contain your internal fun factors for step 5.

  1. Gather circumstantial evidence!

When I started to look a little closer, I noticed my fun occurred in small intimate groups or during solitary activities. There was often a competitive element and challenges that required problem-solving and creativity. 

Go digging through past fun. Were you with an intimate group of people or in a lively crowd? Was the atmosphere calm or festive? Was there novelty involved or was it a comforting habitual activity? Was it challenging or light? Cooperative or competitive? Physically active or sedentary? The list goes on…

  • When revisiting childhood pleasures, what circumstances were at play?
  • Compile a list of conditions that were present during your childhood activities

The list items you come up with are your external fun factors.

  1. The fun formula!

Now for the easy part! You’ve identified your internal and external fun factors, so it’s time to explore activities that could fit the bill.

In your notebook, create a grid that lists your unique fun factors along the top. Brainstorm activities in the left column. Then tick off which fun factors you think you can get from each activity. Here’s mine below.

Brainstorming and exploring some possibilities for myself, I discovered geocaching; a kind of GPS treasure hunt that feels like a combination of the scavenger hunts and orienteering activities of my youth. And it ticks all my boxes!

Zoom chat with fun friend(s)

Online games night with family


  1. Do it now!

If you want to get serious about fun, you need to schedule it in.

I’m pleased to report that I’ve already had a zoom chat with a dear friend. That chat alone activated those “happy hormones” and buoyed my spirits enough to keep me going on the fun track.

I’ve also scheduled an online family games night for Friday night and I’ve opened a geocaching account. Setting the play wheels in motion means taking the first steps. Now it’s your turn! 

  • Block off some time in your calendar right now! 
  • Take a first step (organize people, make a booking, gather supplies)
  • Make it happen
  1. Again, again!

It’s important to get those neurotransmitters fired up on the regular!

Once you build fun into your routine, I’m betting you will notice positive shifts in all aspects of your life. In addition to your scheduled fun, keep your antennae tuned for spontaneous play. Be open and ready for these out-of-the-blue gems!

I hope you enjoyed this activity! And thank you, because writing this for you has helped me approach my own fun barriers and make real progress towards reconnecting with my playful spirit. 

At this very moment, I’d rate myself at a 5/10 (small steps!) on the fun scale. I feel positive that regular doses of fun will have that number climbing each week. I’m confident the additional fun will bring a cascade of much-needed lightness to my life.

Remember…fun is fundamental. In the comments below, tell me how you are having fun this week!

Kate Strickland
Kate Strickland
I’m a life coach, literacy educator and art-maker, and I love the simple joys of assembling IKEA furniture, photographing the veins of leaves, and sorting stuff (any stuff!). Beauty and connection are fundamental to me and at the heart of sparkfinder.ca, where I bring together coaching and art to help people re-ignite their sparks.

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