How to have fun again

By Joanna Pearlstein | New York Times

The path appeared to dead-end at the stream. My family and I had kayaked 45 minutes up a river, docked our boats on a beach and tromped through the woods in search of a waterfall. I looked around for another way, to no avail. My 14-year-old pointed out a trail across the water, confidently declared we just needed to wade across and proceeded to do so expeditiously. My wife, who had opted for more appropriate footwear, soon followed. And I stood there, looking out at the stream and down at my good running shoes and back out again. I took a moment to regret my choices, thanked my sneakers for their service and stepped in.

It wasn’t the last stream we would cross that day, the “secret” waterfall would turn out to be very much not so, the return trip downriver was windy, the skies opened when we tried to haul our kayaks to the rental place, and we returned to our rental car soaked and filthy.

It was fun.

Should I have been so surprised? Unfortunately, when it comes to fun, a lot of adults like me are out of practice. Wendy MacNaughton, a San Francisco artist, explores this idea in an illustrated essay for Times Opinion. She describes the long-lasting, unexpected happiness she felt after reconnecting with something she did as a kid and offers several suggestions for ways grown-ups can re-engage with fun.

It’s not by accident that many of MacNaughton’s ideas require being outdoors. Catherine Price, a science journalist and the author of “The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again,” says that being in nature can put you in a state of flow, which is a key ingredient for fun. “There’s a feeling that nature can trigger that kind of dissolution of your boundaries of your sense of self,” she told me recently. You can’t have fun if you’re self-conscious, she says. “I think of it as getting a kick out of your own life.”

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