Do you want to play a game? Okay, let’s play word association. You think of the first word that comes to mind for each of the following words:
- Weight management
- Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
Now, rate how ‘fun’ you consider each of the five words that you came up with to be, on a 0-10 scale, where 0 = very serious and 10 = very fun.
My guess is that, perhaps with the exception of ‘Children’, each of your words tended more towards the serious end of the spectrum. The nation’s obesity epidemic – pretty serious, no? Research, pretty boring, yes? Or not.
Well, the five words above are the keywords of an article I have written, recently published in the British Journal of Health Psychology. My research showed that having fun was a central experience of children who attended a weight management programme; if we want to teach children important lessons of life, we need to deliver these messages in interesting, relevant and engaging ways. Having fun was associated with participation in activities; children need to learn experientially the relevance of a message for themselves. Fun was ‘going with the flow’; an optimum balance between challenge and skills prevents against boredom or anxiety (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Children also had more fun with others.
There is a lack of research into the topic of fun, and the theme of fun wasn’t something that I had anticipated when embarking on this research. I have to say I had a lot of fun conducting and analysing the research. Yes, there is the geek in me that enjoys such pursuits anyway, but I am sure researching about fun had a part to play (no pun intended).
Having fun or being serious: can we be both?
Are fun and frivolity really the opposite of being serious? To quote one of my favourite philosophers Montaigne:
Children at play are not playing about; their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity.
We see this in Channel 4’s popular documentary of the Secret Lives of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds, where play-based learning is central to a child’s development (hilarious, sometimes heart-breaking, viewing!) The playground is often the place where – hopefully – skills such as empathy, sharing and conflict resolution are learnt.
Just let your hair down and have fun!
I would argue that the findings of my research are equally important for adults. Adults often tell each other things like “lighten up” or “just relax and have fun”. This never has the desired effect. Yet they keep on trying. This the “Be Spontaneous Paradox” (Watzlawick, Weakland & Fisch, 1974); willing any spontaneous act or experience (e.g. having fun, smiling, sleeping, relaxing) makes the very thing you are willing nigh on impossible.
I have an inkling that it is actually children that are the ones who are teaching adults, rather than the other way around. A psychologist friend of mine, who incorporates mindfulness into his clinical work, told me that it was his two-year-old young son – rather than the wealth of mindfulness textbooks – was his true mindfulness guru. I have also noticed a rise in grown-up-Christmas-jumper-wearers, colouring in books and over-excited adults off to watch Star Wars.
If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that fun actually is all around…
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Beyond boredom and anxiety: Experiencing flow in work and play. Chichester: Wiley.
- Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J. & Fisch, R. (1974). Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. New York: Norton.
- Watson, L., Baker, M. & Chadwick, P. (2015). Kids just wanna have fun: Children’s experiences of a weight management programme. British Journal of Health Psychology DOI:10.1111/bjhp.12175