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  • Published: 18 January 2022
  • ISBN: 9781787635937
  • Imprint: Bantam Press
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $35.00

The Power of Fun

Why fun is the key to a happy and healthy life

Extract

Prologue

when is the last time you had fun?

I’m serious. Think about it. When’s the last time you felt exhilarated and lighthearted? When’s the last time you didn’t feel judged, by yourself or other people? When’s the last time you were engaged, focused, and completely present, undistracted by thoughts about the future or the past? When’s the last time you felt free? When’s the last time you felt alive?

Maybe you were laughing with a friend. Maybe you were exploring a new place. Maybe you were being slightly rebellious. Maybe you were trying something for the first time. Maybe you felt an unexpected sense of connection. Regardless of the activity, the result was the same: You laughed and smiled. You felt liberated from your responsibilities. When it was over, the experience left you energized, nourished, and refreshed.

If you are having trouble thinking of a recent moment that fits that description, I hear you. Until recently, I didn’t feel like I was having much fun myself. And then two things happened that transformed me.

 

The first occurred as a result of the birth of my daughter. After years of debating whether to have a child, followed by more than a year of trying, I became pregnant in the middle of 2014. Instead of expressing our nesting instincts through reasonable, small-scale projects, like closet organization or rethinking our spice rack, my husband and I decided that my pregnancy would be the ideal time to embark upon a full kitchen renovation—as in, one that involved ripping the room down to the studs and removing the back wall of our house in the middle of an East Coast January.

With a shared love of creative projects (and control), we also decided to design it ourselves. In my husband’s case, this resulted in him spending hours researching kitchen faucets. In my case, it meant figuring out how to incorporate salvaged architectural elements into the kitchen, such as a mirrored Victorian armoire front that I had found in a dead neighbor’s basement (long story) that I decided would make a perfect façade for a cookbook case and pull-out pantry.

I also spent hours on eBay searching for interesting details that we could add to the kitchen, a quest that left my search history littered with entries such as “vintage drawer pull” and “antique Eastlake door hinge 3x3.” (Even today, my eBay watch list still includes items such as “Victorian Fancy Stick and Ball Oak Fretwork or Gingerbread—original finish” and “Old Chrome Art-Deco Vacant Engaged Toilet Bathroom Lock Bolt Indicator Door.”)

As my belly grew bigger and our house colder, we had a running joke with our contractors—who by that point had become friends—about which project would be finished first, the kitchen or my pregnancy. It turned out that I won that contest, not because they were slow, but because I had an emergency C-section five and a half weeks before my due date. Eventually the kitchen renovation was finished, the armoire front became the pantry façade of my dreams, and I could finally stop my eBay searches.

Except I didn’t stop. Even though I no longer had any plausible excuse for spending thirty minutes at a time trawling through listings for antique door hardware, I still found myself picking up my phone and opening eBay on autopilot, often during middle-of-the-night feeding sessions with my daughter. I’d cuddle her in one arm and hold my phone with the other, using my thumb to scroll. It didn’t matter that all of the doors in our house already had knobs and hinges. I was searching for architectural salvage in the same way that other people consume social media: eyes glazed, hypnotized by the stream of images on my screen. The photos were less glamorous, but the compulsion was the same.

And then one night, while I was in the midst of yet another session, I looked away from my screen for a moment and caught my daughter’s eye. She was staring up at me, her tiny face illuminated by my phone’s blue light.

This must have happened countless times before, given how often newborns eat and the fact that at that point in my life, my phone was basically an appendage. But for some reason—maybe the fact that I have a background in mindfulness, maybe delirium caused by sleep deprivation—this time was different. I saw the scene from the outside, as if I were floating above my body, watching what was happening in the room. There was a baby, gazing up at her mother. And there was her mother, looking down at her phone.

I felt gutted.

The image hovered in my mind like a photograph of a crime scene. How had this happened? After all the work I’d done to cultivate self-awareness, how had I become a zombie so mesmerized by images on my phone (of door hardware, mind you!) that I was ignoring the baby—my baby—cradled in my arms?

This was not the impression I wanted my daughter to have of a relationship, let alone her relationship with her mother. And I didn’t want this to be the way I experienced motherhood—or my own life.

In that moment, I realized that—without my awareness or consent—my phone had begun to control me. It was the first thing I reached for in the morning and the last thing I looked at before bed. Any time I had a moment of stillness, it appeared in my hand. On the bus, in the elevator, in the bed, I always had my phone.

I noticed other changes, too, that, when I took the time to think about them, seemed like they also might be linked to my phone. My attention span was shot; I couldn’t remember the last time I’d made it through even a magazine article without feeling a compulsion to pick up my phone to check for something (really, anything). I was spending much more time texting with friends than talking with them, and was doing things that objectively made no sense, such as checking and rechecking the news even though I knew doing so made me feel bad, or searching for new real estate listings even though we had no intention of moving.

Hours that I might previously have devoted to doing things, like playing music, learning a new skill, or interacting with my husband (as opposed to sitting in the same room together, parallel-scrolling) increasingly were spent staring at a screen. I’d morphed from an interesting, interested, independent-minded person into someone who had been hypnotized by a small rectangular object—an object whose apps were programmed by people working for giant companies that stood to profit from getting me to waste my time.

I’m not saying that technology is evil and that we should throw our phones and tablets into a river. Some of our screen time is productive, essential, and/or enjoyable. Some of it provides relaxation or escape. But it’s also gotten out of control. I’ve become convinced that our phones and other wireless mobile devices (which are sometimes referred to as “WMDs”—weapons of mass distraction) are pulling our internal compasses seriously off track, insinuating themselves into our lives in ways that aren’t just scattering our attention; they’re changing the core of who we actually are.

And now my phone had infiltrated one of the most sacred spaces of all: my relationship with my daughter. This was not okay. As my husband would attest, I am so primed toward poignancy that I can become nostalgic for an experience while I am in the midst of having it—a character trait that having a child has only made worse. Life is short; kids grow up so quickly. I didn’t want to coast through my days distracted and only half-present.

I wanted to live. And that meant I needed to change, fast.

I have a longstanding habit of turning my personal issues into professional projects, and it occurred to me that my husband and I were hardly the only people who were losing ourselves to our phones; it was just that, at that point, very few people were paying attention to what was happening. In fact, the more I looked up from my phone and observed the world around me, the more concerned I became. (If you try it yourself, you will, too.)

I saw people texting while driving seventy miles an hour on the highway, or crossing busy streets. I noticed whole families out to eat at restaurants, with each person’s nose buried in a different device. I observed my own interactions with friends and family members, where inevitably one of us would whip out a phone and stroke its screen, almost as a tic, before slipping it back into a pocket or putting it back on the table. I felt like I was caught in a modern, real-life version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: I could see that all of us were acting like addicts, but since everyone was afflicted, we were deluding ourselves into thinking that our behaviors were normal and okay.

I also realized that, while there were a number of books that sounded the alarm about the possible negative mental and physical effects of spending hours each day exposing our brains to the nonstop stimulation of the internet (and consuming content that polarizes and divides us), there weren’t any that offered a solution. So, shortly after my soul-searching moment with my daughter, I started working on a book called How to Break Up With Your Phone about how we can (and why we should) create healthier relationships with technology. I wrote it because I wanted to wrest back control from my devices—and to help other people do the same—so that I could get back to actually living.

By the end of the process, I had created a plan for how we can have healthier, more sustainable long-term relationships with our phones, and I had followed it myself. The result was not perfection (it’s impossible to have a perfect relationship with anything, let alone a device that’s designed to addict you), but the effects were transformative. I got my attention span back. I felt more creative and less stressed. I became more present with my husband and daughter. By helping me to reclaim my own time, creating better boundaries with technology had given me an opportunity to take back my life.

And that led to the second event that inspired this book.


The Power of Fun Catherine Price

How to make fun an essential part of a balanced, purposeful and healthy life, from the bestselling author of How to Break Up with Your Phone.

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