I Don't Know How You Do It

How to Turn Fun Into a Habit, With Dr. Mike Rucker

January 16, 2024 Jessica Fein Episode 51
I Don't Know How You Do It
How to Turn Fun Into a Habit, With Dr. Mike Rucker
Show Notes Transcript

Here we are in mid-January when our new year resolutions are beginning to be put to the test. For some of us that means we're drinking more water or going on long walks or trying to meditate daily. But there's another category of resolutions that we're going to explore over the next few weeks.

The first seems simple on the surface: "I want to have more fun." If only it were as easy as it sounds.

Today's guest, Dr. Mike Rucker is the author of The Fun Habit: How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life, which has been featured in  publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Forbes. 

A joy-seeking psychologist, Dr. Rucker challenges us to break free from the happiness trap, reclaim lost hours, and embrace the pursuit of joy and wonder in everyday life.

You'll learn:

  • Why we get stuck in the happiness trap
  • How to use the time audit and Play Model to figure out where we can add more joy and fulfillment
  • How to incorporate fun into work
  • Why anticipation is more than half the fun
  • Why fun is important physically
  • The difference between fun, joy, and whimsy
  • How we can fit fun in even when our lives are immensely complicated
  • And so much more...

Learn more about Dr. Mike Rucker:

The Fun Habit book

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Music credit: Limitless by Bells


Jessica Fein: Welcome. I'm Jessica Fein, and this is the “I Don’t Know How You Do It” podcast where we talk to people whose lives seem unimaginable from the outside and dive into how they're able to do things that look undoable.

I'm so glad you're joining me on this journey and I hope you enjoy the conversation. 

Welcome back to the show. Here we are in the middle of January when our resolutions and intentions that we made a few weeks ago are being put to the test. So, maybe you're drinking more water, or meditating, or going on regular walks.

But here are some of the other goals people have shared with me. I want to have more fun. I want to travel more. I want to finally write the book that's been percolating all these [00:01:00] years. So I've decided to dedicate the next three episodes to those very things, starting with fun. Our guest today, Dr. Mike Rucker, is an organizational psychologist, behavioral scientist, and charter member of the International Positive Psychology Association.

He's also the author of “The Fun Habit, How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life.” Dr. Rucker has been academically published in publications like the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, and his ideas about fun and health have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fast Company, Psychology Today, Forbes, Fox, Thrive Global, Mindful, and so many more.

I spoke with Mike not only about how to have more fun, but also why it's so important. And now if you're thinking my life is incredibly complicated and I do not have time for fun, you'll want to listen to the very end because we'll get into that. Without further ado, it is my [00:02:00] pleasure to bring you Dr. Mike Rucker. 

Welcome, Mike. I have been so looking forward to this conversation. Oh, thank you. Likewise. You know, we talk about a lot of heavy things on this show, and here we're going to talk about something that is fun, literally. So I'm really excited. The whole premise of your book, right? And the words that are on the cover of your book, find delight, fix unhappy.

That sounds like a pretty good prescription, right? And it sounds kind of simple. Tell us a little bit about what this premise is.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, and I think when you boil something down to four words, right? 

Jessica Fein: You did, in fact, write a whole book on it. I do gather that it's more than the four words.

Mike Rucker: There's inherently some, um, marketing underpinnings to boil down.

The original manuscript was quite the lit review where Simon Schuster is like, this is great, but no one's going to read it. So, you know, we did have to make it more palatable. But to back up a little bit, I'm a charter member of the [00:03:00] International Positive Psychology Association and why that's important.

Is I've been a zealot of kind of happiness as a construct for quite some time, even before that. Right. So I was kind of invited to that tribe because in regards to how do we develop in ways where we can live life more joyfully has always been sort of interesting, especially from a research perspective.

And I was hooked, you know, and so essentially I'd lived my life from the early 2000s in a way that was optimizing happiness up until that point, like so much. So I was a geek about it, right? I had spreadsheets like, what did I do this day? Does it correlate with my mood and things of that nature? And things were going pretty well.

I mean, to shorten the story in 2016, my younger brother unexpectedly passed away. And it really knocked me on my butt and I had mitigated my stress up to that point through endurance exercise and I found out that I had likely had an injury that led to osteoarthritis and at a fairly young age was going to need a hip replacement.

Which means you [00:04:00] can't run again, right? Because you're essentially putting car parts in your body and like all car parts, unlike biological parts, they have a shelf life. So if you get one that early, there are certain things that you can't do that you might be able to do if you got it later in life and one of them is running any significant distance.

So here I am, this zealot of happiness, you know, doing all the things that we're told to do, gratitude journaling, meditation, pretty Pollyanna look on life, you know, using optimism as a tool, and yet I have these two heady things that have completely shattered my identity. And because I was engrossed in what we're now call commonly toxic positivity, right?

I thought I could will myself out of it. And I couldn't. I mean, it almost led to a clinical outcome and maybe a clinical outcome that wasn't explored clinically. But being a researcher, I wanted to understand why I was in this dark place, but I knew something was going wrong. And fortunately, around that time was just when this emerging research was coming out that, especially here in the [00:05:00] West, this sort of relentless pursuit of happiness.

So Always like to clarify, not valuing happiness or wanting people to thrive or wanting your family to be happy and joyful, but being overly concerned of how can I be the happiest person possible has really become problematic. It's a very paradoxical strategy and pretty much a direct line to being unhappy.

Jessica Fein: You alluded to something you write about, which is The Happiness Trap. And I thought that was interesting because first of all, it's just a nice juxtaposition of words. But, you know, on the one hand, we want to be intentional. And on the other hand, we can kind of make ourselves crazy and have the opposite effect.

What is the happiness trap and how do we avoid it? 

Mike Rucker: Yeah. So the easiest way to sort of visualize it is that when we are so focused on happiness and it's out in the distance, right, like I just do this or if I just, you know, one of the Joneses across the street, then I'll be happy. We start to ruminate on that gap from where we are [00:06:00] today to that place of happiness that we think will be there tomorrow.

And that gap is really the trap because what we now know, this isn't just conjecture anymore, right? We've empirically validated that the folks that kind of get stuck in that rumination of like, Oh, I just need to do this. I just need to do this to be happy. It seeps into their identity that, well, I guess, cause I'm never actually saying that I'm happy.

I must be an unhappy person. And then you start to look for artifacts, that's, we just know that's how the brain works, right? Once we've developed an identity, we start to look for things that support that identity that we've built. And it can be really insidious and unconscious. So that trap is, you know, if I just have an amazing vacation, or if I just get my kids to behave, things that a lot of times we don't have control over, if we live in that gap, which I colorfully called the trap.

It's almost like cognitive behavioral therapy in reverse, right? Because now you have these scripts that are sort of informing you you're living an unhappy life, which is such a shame, right? [00:07:00] Because oftentimes just a few choices where you regain control despite your circumstances can fix that. 

Jessica Fein: That's so interesting, and it's really fascinating that you, as you said, used to nerd out over the idea of being happy, right, and to make these spreadsheets.

I remember when I was in my early 20s, my father calling me one day, and I had moved across the country, I'm from Boston, I had moved to the West Coast, and my father was back in Boston, and he called me and he said, Are you happy? And I remember being, like, kind of irked. It was such an uncomfortable question for me.

I was like, first of all, I'm at work right now. Like, what are you even talking about, you know? But it was such a big question, and I think I just didn't even know how to assess that. You know, like, I don't know. I'm, you know, going about my day. So I wonder why this notion of we want to be happy, and yet evaluating our happiness level, so to speak, can be uncomfortable.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, I think existentially, it's really are you able to enjoy the things that you're doing and when we're asked that in retrospection, [00:08:00] it's kind of goes against the game almost, right? I mean, it really is what, you know, some folks refer to as an infinite game. So asking that in a point in time requires this episodic assessment.

Like, I don't know. Am I? You've just gotten in the way of what I was doing.

Jessica Fein: Well, I'm not now. Now that you asked me that.

Mike Rucker: A research that I really like out of dude, Jordan Ekman puts it nicely. It's like, once you're taken out of the moment, unless you really like ruminating or reminiscing, and that's what you do for fun, then all of a sudden you've ruined it.

And so directionally, you want to know where you're going and you want to make better choices. But where it has become problematic is, you know, one we've already touched on, right? It really does require you to look in the rear view mirror. So to the extent that that's helpful, okay. But to the extent it's not helpful, we should fix that.

The other is, a lot of times we're putting it on a gauge. This idea that in psychology we boiled down happiness, this objective wellbeing, and that's on a scale of one to 10. [00:09:00] Okay? What happens if your life is going great again, like mine was up until 2016 and you know you're always at about a nine and a half.

Eventually life is gonna knock you down to a. And so I do like the fact that this international psych tribe that I'm a part of is now looking a lot more at emotional flexibility, because I think that's the piece we really were missing. When you don't have that emotional flexibility to circumvent the slings and arrows of life that are naturally going to come, that can become problematic.

Jessica Fein: Yeah, absolutely. So we're talking about this idea of making fun a habit. I'm wondering, so we don't want to fall into this happiness trap, the gap, what's the difference between pursuing happiness? and pursuing fun. 

Mike Rucker: I think it's a more immediate sort of mechanism, right? It's funny because all of these things get nuanced like sometimes folks will be like, is this guy just prescribing a life of whimsy?

No, what I'm suggesting is that we have 168 hours in our week, and that when a lot of us go back and look at our time audit, we can't even identify one [00:10:00] hour that we could claim for ourselves and say, you know what, I spent that time the way that I wanted to. And so the difference of creating a habit is that we've habituated our lives in a way that depending on your identity or either in the service of others, or you're just so depleted that you're doing things to displace frustration or boredom.

So you think they're fun, right? Like social media use for instance, but it's really just, I just need to pass the hour and not think about, you know, this crap day I had at work. And taking back control and going, you know what, I can reclaim at least two or three hours of this 168. That's not unreasonable, even if I'm a busy person.

Even if I have to co create those experiences with, let's say, my kids or my parents, you know, those folks stuck in the sandwich generation. I have some control over my circumstance to make sure that some of this time that I spend on Earth is joyful. So, it's not provocative or something that's mind blowing.

But none of us are doing it. So a lot of times, it's just that nudge of like, all you have to do [00:11:00] is look at your calendar, realize nothing's on there. And this behavioral science concept of free commitment, just get it on there and it will happen. And then what happens is once you index a few of those, Especially if you're a mindful person, you start to, wow, I showed up the next day, you know, even though the next day is something where I have to do hard work or whatever it is, I'm a much better version of myself.

Jessica Fein: Yeah. So why is it so hard? Why does it have to be something that we are intentional about? Because when we're kids, This is like what it's about, right? This is our day. And you write about the fact that as we get older, it becomes challenging. And it's such a shift. I mean, we look at our kids and they can just play.

Why does it become so hard as we get older? What's the trade off? Why do we feel like I don't deserve this?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, you know how, bear with me, this will make sense in a second. Yeah, we've looked at obesity for quite some time and we know we couldn't say it's one thing, right? It's not plate size. It's not the fact that we don't walk to work anymore.

You know, there's so many headwinds against us. [00:12:00] To answer this question, that's the same, right? For every individual, it might be a nuance of one of these headwinds, but there are some big ones, right? We've equated time for money for so long. So we feel like if we are spending an hour on ourselves, somehow we're devaluing what we have to offer.

For others, if they were brought up with the pure can work ethic, the idea of enjoying themselves, there's this inner sense of guilt that they can't shake, no matter how hard they try. And so an elixir for that is again, going back and going, if you don't do this, you're actually not going to show up for the people that you think you're serving, then there's meritocracy.

So we've been taught for so long that if we don't put in that extra hour and we get to the top of the threshold, that somehow again, our self worth is going to take a hit luckily now, you know, especially over the previous past decades, the amount that you have to give up and sacrifice to be at that top 1%.

Your loving relationships, your wellbeing is well understood. So [00:13:00] we're seeing outside of North America. Folks really figure it out. Like I love what the EU is doing. France in particular has now made it illegal for companies to keep their email servers on after 5 p. m. on Friday. So you set that social norm that you can't send work emails on the weekend.

A lot of information about New Zealand's experiment with the four day workweek and how it didn't reduce productivity at all. Didn't necessarily add to productivity, but it didn't take away anything. Yet you saw all of these social determinants of health go up. Less burnout, better mental health hygiene at work.

And so other people are getting it. But for whatever reason, again, because it's hard to change behavior, right? Especially when it's normative. We haven't gotten the message yet. I mean, it's so bad here that in the developed world, we're the second to last. With regards to giving PTO, right? And that's not something that we can control.

At average, we give 10 days off for one year's worth of work. There's only one country worse than us. Which country is worse? [00:14:00] Micronesia at nine. That's not something that we can control, right? So, okay, that's an interesting statistic. What we can control, which is so sad, is that only 50 percent of us are even taking that time off.

And so that is something that we can control. Like, why is it that we feel like we're letting our co workers down if we just want one week of renewal each year? And those are the things that we need to figure out how to fix.

Jessica Fein: And it's so backwards, right? We think that we look like we're more dedicated and that we're a harder worker and it's just not the case.

I mean, I used to supervise a fairly large team and people would come to work even when they were visibly sick. This was before COVID. You know, obviously things changed, but people would come to work because they thought they were proving something. And what they were proving in my mind that was that they were selfish, right?

Why are you going to bring that into the workplace? We're obviously talking sick day versus vacation day, but still this idea that I got to show up every day, no matter what, whether I'm sick physically, whether I'm sick emotionally, because I haven't taken any time for [00:15:00] myself. 

Mike Rucker: I think it's just this normative behavior that we see.

And again, you know, the underpinnings probably have multiple sources, but when we go on vacation, we feel like, okay, I'll make sure that the status report gets done because I don't want to put that on anybody else's plate or whatever. We're in most of the rest of the world, certainly South America and the EU, your colleagues come together and like, you know what?

You enjoy yourself. We've got you covered. We know you work hard. And so we've got your back while you're gone. Don't think about a thing. And then when you come back, we know you'll be a great worker again. And what a subtle, but monumental shift in ideology. It's a quick anecdote in the book, but Arianna Huffington's app that said, all your emails have gotten deleted because this particular individual is on vacation.

And so all you have to do is write the email again, when this person's back on X and X date. And what an amazing app that never got adopted.

Jessica Fein: And I thought that where you give the sample [00:16:00] out of office messages of what you can say, I thought were great. And I've seen people doing that more and more saying, you know, I'm off.

Playing with my six year old today or whatever, but it's still the exception that people do that. One of the distinctions that really landed with me reading the book was that happiness is a state of mind, but fun is something you can do. And why I love that is because now I start to feel like, okay, we've got some control here, right?

So tell us about the play model and the fun on it. Like, how are we getting started here?

Mike Rucker: Sure. So it's a very tactical strategy. We've already alluded to it a little bit, right? But it's really just a mindfulness exercise. Just like if you were working on diet with a nutritionist, they would have you just figure out how you eat for a couple of days.

The same thing is true here. We've been conditioned for so long to squeeze out every ounce of productivity in our schedule. Taking a fresh look at your [00:17:00] schedule. Do you enjoy the activities that you do? Both work and leisure becomes extremely important so that you can sort of sort out why. You're not living fine, right?

So the time audit is that simple. Looking at the 168 hours in any given week, most people are going to be like, I don't know, each week is different. But we know from looking at time survey data that for the majority of us, even though we believe that 80 percent tends to habituate the same week in, week out.

And we generally have a lot more control over how we spend that time than we think. So it becomes helpful in that context. And then the play model is just a simple four quadrant model. The P is creasing, the L is living, the A is agonizing and the Y is yielding. Anyone can Google edit three online, just look for a record play model, come right up.

The P and L are essentially things that you enjoy doing. So that's the top of the quadrant. And then the A and Y are things that you don't enjoy doing. And then there's an energy level that's associated with these boxes. So it allows you to kind of [00:18:00] divide what you're doing into these four quadrants. And then it gives a set of strategies for each one of these quadrants to see how you can move things into more enjoyable experiences.

And it's not about changing the way you work. It's really just about these small sort of mindset shifts. You can either change the circumstance of things that you didn't enjoy doing, or you can take away things that were just a way to pass the time by. And hopefully integrate things that lead to more fulfillment and more betterment, which we know most people generally experience with fun.

Jessica Fein: Yeah. And it's interesting because when you talk about things that are just there to pass the time, you talk about the nothing. And I loved that because, well, actually, can you define that for us so the audience knows what you're talking about? 

Mike Rucker: Yeah, we landed on that term, me and my collaborator. Well, one, because we both were a fan of the movie right for the never ending story for folks that aren't familiar, but really from the neuroscience.

So I'm standing on the shoulders of Lisa [00:19:00] Feldman Barrett here. But what we know is that when we are just kind of Letting time pass us by again, tricking ourselves into thinking we're having fun by displacing discomfort, by just playing on our phone or mindlessly watching television, if you're watching a show that you love and you're, you know, cuddling with your partner, what an amazing experience you're getting.

Oxytocin you're encoding rich information from an entertainment experience you love. So I don't villianize that as much, but what I do villianize is that you're depleted after a long day. And instead of getting sleep. You plop down on the couch and mindlessly let the television erode into your sleep hygiene.

That's a yielding category activity that we know can be corrected and lead to a lot of betterment. When we engage in those activities, like the one that I just explained, and we're not encoding information, what happens is we have no neuroplasticity because we're not creating new experiences. Our brain essentially shuts off.

And so now we don't have [00:20:00] experiences we can relish, which we know leads to resilience. But then also, and this work comes from Bronnie Ware, she was a qualitative nurse who did a bunch of interviews with folks that were essentially end of life. And a majority of the regret that these folks felt were that they didn't enjoy their lives, they didn't enjoy company with others.

And then we also know from empirical research that folks that have habituated their lives, that it's so routine, they don't only look back at it with regret, but they also think it passes them by. And why we know this is, is that when we increase activities that are exciting to us, that are fun, that encode information, creates this time frame map in our brains, right?

We look back at like, oh yeah. I remember this vacation in 96, and then I remember when my daughter graduated in 97. That was just so amazing. So we have this rich tapestry, this corpus of memories, and we can sit in the third semester of our life and look back at a life well lived. But the [00:21:00] folks that don't have that, that haven't spent the time, integrate exciting things into their lives, they look back and they think their life has passed them by, unfortunately.

We just know that to be true. So it's another nod of how important this stuff is. And from a physiological level, we're now starting to understand that those neural pathways, we don't exactly know why, but if we have a rich set of neural pathways with all those memories, it really is a prophylactic for cognitive decline, because the brain starts to use those when something goes awry and can reformulate those existing pathways.

As we start to get into mild cognitive decline. So it's a one two punch, right? Psychologically, it leads to quite a bit of resilience and that emotional flexibility that we talked about being important. And from a physiological standpoint, seems to be a useful way to stay healthy later in life. 

Jessica Fein: Well that sounds pretty good.

You talk about in the book how we can bring fun into different situations. You talk about having fun with [00:22:00] children and we were talking earlier about the sandwich generation and a lot of us have children still at home or older and you talk about following the child's lead. What was interesting to me is you say play is not play if you're not both having fun.

I thought that was so interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, when my kids were little, they wanted to play all day with Legos. I do not find Legos fun. I'm a game person, not a toy person, right? So what do you mean? Like, how is it that we're going to make sure we all think that the thing is fun?

Mike Rucker: It's another one of those simple strategies that I just find so interesting in context because people are like, really, is it that simple? Try it. And when they do, like, oh my gosh, you can co create these experiences, especially for folks that feel resistance. I say just watch your kids play with other kids and see what happens when your child doesn't want to do something the other child does.

They co create an experience that's acceptable to both of them, and then they have an amazing time. [00:23:00] But for some reason, parents forget that they have the ability to do that too. You know what? Legos are great, but I don't feel like doing that today, and I really want to play with you. What could we do together that we both enjoy?

And nine times out of ten, you're gonna figure out what that is, and then recreate that thing so that you're both having fun together. Example I bring up all the time is how many folks at the playground sit in a yielding activity just sitting on the bench and look at that whole hour or two of the child's play date from the sense of duty and they don't even want to be there right they're just waiting for the time to be over where if they had asked their kid like yeah I really like swimming or you know nerf gun wars or whatever it is again You know, that's where it becomes complex because fun is as unique as all of us.

So, you know, I could have a laundry list and maybe even after 20 different things, you're like, I don't like any of these. That's fine. Make your own fun list, right? Right. But you're going to figure it out. It's that simple that the people that put in that work can instantly change their circumstance.

Because now [00:24:00] they are enjoying it. There's such a host of benefit from that, right? For the geeks like myself, go down the rabbit hole of transactional analysis. Once you're able to get in that play like state, so you don't feel like you're parenting anymore, then you get to be a child as well. And you kind of relinquish that control, and you get to learn from your kid.

And they'll start to open up. That rapport develops. Instead of them feeling like you're some sort of gatekeeper, right? They'll start to disclose information that they would to a friend, but they never would to a parent. So there's all of this benefit. And then the final one that I landed on this year is, you know, let's say your fun activity is cooking right with your child, if you can, and you know, if you come from a place of privilege, fine, go to a course if you can't, there's so many great lessons on YouTube, right?

Make someone else the teacher so that when one of you two makes mistakes, there's not like, oh, you know, this sense that you need to course correct or teach. You can be like, oh, that's funny. You know, like, okay, let's mob somebody and go back, right? You can laugh together as friends. 

Jessica Fein: Well, I like that. [00:25:00] And I love the idea of doing something online where you can both be the student together or to go to a course.

But, you know, you do suggest in the book, take a course with your child and let the child choose the course. Yes. And I gotta tell you, I did that recently and it was a colossal failure. 

Mike Rucker: Colossal failures are the most fun. 

Jessica Fein: That's a good point. I think it's more fun if you both think it's a failure.

So I let my kid pick and my kid picked pottery. Okay. So I've never even touched clay in my life, and I, I knew nothing, but sure, we'll go and who knows, maybe I'll turn out to be this fabulous potter, who knows. And we went to this mixed level class because my kid had done it before and I hadn't. And I hated it so much.

I hated every second of being there. My kid is there and spinning and centering and making fancy, fancy stuff. And I can't even have my lump of clay stay on the wheel, it's flying off. And it was funny and fun for like eight seconds. And then I just wanted to cry and wanted to leave. So what happens when we set ourselves up for something we think [00:26:00] is going to be fun and it turns out not to be?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, I would say to the extent you can look back and laugh, that's great. You know, obviously you don't want to do it again. For folks that journal, I think you unpack what went wrong so that you never experience it again. I do find the novelty in that, especially when things go horribly wrong, actually, you know, fun.

But again, that might be the Pollyanna glasses that I wear. But certainly mistakes will be made. I'm not going to say that that's not going to happen. And it was good that you didn't go in saying, I'm going to make this amazing vase and then felt like a failure. I think you just realized like, this is not for me and we're never going to do this again.

And then maybe it's a good invitation to ask your child, can I be the one that picks the class next time? And then maybe your circumstance will change, but I do apologize. 

Jessica Fein: I did not do that at your prescription. I had done that before, but when I read that in the book, I was like, Oh, all right. So that's how we can instill some fun with our kids.

What about work? Tell us some of the things we can do to make the workplace more [00:27:00] fun. 

Mike Rucker: Yeah. So the direction I took there, because there certainly are some things you can take off the shelf from organizational psychology, right. With regards to leadership, but forced fun is just never fun. Right. And so it becomes really complex in the sense that if you are a leader that wants to do that, it's so determinate on the cultural mix of your organization.

I found that in my doctoral research, when looking at how small and mid sized workplaces really crush it with workplace wellness, because they can really devise programs specific to their small population. So in the book, I took another approach and that is how do you reclaim the fun that you can have Because it's clear that we thrive when we feel like we have a level of autonomy to be able to do the things that we enjoy in our work.

So the suggestions are looking at the way you engage in your activities and are there ways to change that circumstance to what degree. Can you pull the levers? And those levers are generally the environment that you're doing [00:28:00] them in. Like, do you hate the office? Could you potentially work in a nature environment if that's your jam?

Or a busy coffee shop, which is my jam. The people that you're doing it with, to the extent that you have the ability to create your teams, are there folks that you enjoy working with? And can you bias your time towards those types of projects? And then the activities themselves, whatever work product that you're creating, are there ways to go about it in a fashion that are more enjoyable to you than potentially some of the agonizing activities that you have?

And then sometimes again, this is sort of rooted in privilege, but are there ways to outsource that to trade time with other folks so that you're doing the things that you enjoy and maybe the things that you're offloading, they enjoy, right? And oftentimes that's just a conversation away. Again, the sense of duty, like, well, it was given to me.

But that's okay. I mean, we can all negotiate, especially if it's a win win situation. Then the other big concept is taking your breaks, right? And this is especially prevalent in North America. So I'm a big proponent of [00:29:00] reclaiming your lunch hour. This research is so sound. These aren't dotted lines. These are direct lines.

Folks that engage in activities that they enjoy, even if that's working at their desk through lunch, if it's their choice, show up the second half of the day, again, going back to this vigor and vitality when your life is full of fun, with just so much more energy. It's funny, I was giving a talk at an executive function, and I was talking about time affluence and the fact that we're not taking holidays.

And someone came up to me afterwards and was like, I just can't take holidays anymore because I'm so busy. And I was going to unpack that. Like, are you sure? But I want to be a better listener. And she goes, so I take holla hours. And that is my lunchtime. You know, and I thought that was such an amazing word.

You know how healthy that is. But still, I know that science backs her up. You know, especially if you're at a workplace where you don't have a lot of control over how you can spend your time. There's still some legal obligations that every employer has to abide by. And so if you're [00:30:00] introverted going off and reading a good book and you're really enjoying the meal that you have so that you can show up second half renewed better yet, you go have a lunch date with a friend or check in with them over the phone.

I'm on the East coast as well. And my best friend lives in Tahoe. So a lot of times we'll spend our lunch hours just catching up. Those things are so important just to have that break in your day. Kind of simple, right? Nothing earth shattering, but these things have a huge impact on when we look back at our day and say, did we enjoy it?

Because those are going to be the things we fixate on. 

Jessica Fein: Right. You know, one of the things that you talk about is that we're conditioned to think of fun as something that's frivolous, right? And you say fun doesn't need to be frivolous, and you even write about how we can have fun giving back. What are some of the ideas about how we can combine wanting to make a difference, wanting to help, wanting to make an impact with having fun?

Mike Rucker: That chapter is really, I think at its core, how important that is, right? Because initially I was looking at the efficacy of galas and how if you make these charitable events more enjoyable, people will come back year after [00:31:00] year, they'll give more money. But rightfully, the publisher was like, this is kind of boring, right?

So what we really dug into was the fact that the change makers that aren't At least enjoying some of what they do. And again, these constructs apply, right? The people you surround yourself with, especially because you're not doing it for a salary, right? Are you in an environment that you like? Are the activities that you're engaging in to make a difference?

Do they give you vigor, or are they depleting? It's a long game. A lot of changemakers aren't even going to see the change they want in their lifetime. So making sure that you're enjoying the process, enjoying the journey, as cliche as that is. Becomes extremely important in the context of enjoying yourself while you're trying to change the world when we know we can do it through the fact that it makes us feel good and integrate elements of enjoying it.

It's just such a longer game and so important in that context. 

Jessica Fein: I love that. So Mike, what about a lot of our listeners who are in situations that are really difficult in [00:32:00] an ongoing way? So for example, if you are, as I was for many, many, many years, parenting a medically complex child, just to give an example, which I know a lot of our listeners will relate to.

And this is something that is day in, day out, there's no break, it's intense. And yet we know for all the reasons you talked about, How important it is to be able to find the joy to have the fun. How can we do that when we're in a chronically challenging situation? 

Mike Rucker: Yeah, that's a rich question and thanks for asking it.

We do the best we can, but we just need to figure out what are those pockets. If you're someone that's in a situation where biologically you have a disposition that Needs some attention and some treatment. Certainly funds not going to fix that. If you're someone that's in a situation where the corpus of the activities that you're engaged in throughout the week make these things difficult, you figure out what the negotiables [00:33:00] are and to the extent that you can get some help and ask for it becomes important.

There's a concept that you kind of want to understand the underpinnings of this called the hedonic flexibility principle. And we know that if we don't inject some things that just recharge us a little bit, we really can get in the state of downward spiral, or we're not going to be able to show up for the situations like you just described.

And so again, looking at the week as 168 malleable hours. If there's just two or three that you can regain in a way that you feel like, okay, this was just a nice break, reprieve from what I'm going through, it becomes helpful. And this isn't just in the context of psychological hygiene. We're learning more and more that if we don't give a reprieve to the limbic system, and so I'm not a neuroscientist, but really smart ones have explained that have kind of latched onto my work.

If we're in a constant state of fight or flight, the limbic [00:34:00] system will start to do really interesting things to get us to rest because they think something awful is happening. And so it's a one, two punch one. It does allow us to recharge our batteries. And if we do it in the context of I'm doing this.

Because I can serve better, that can be helpful. But that it also helps calm down the things that might get in the way from a physiological level. Right after the book was finished, I got this really rare disorder called Morvan syndrome. I feel really fortunate because it's one of the rare autoimmune conditions that can go under remission.

I got on this treatment called I V I G and feel fine now, but it leads to psychosis because it inhibits your body's ability to use potassium. So you can't sleep either. So there was like three weeks. Where I didn't get an ounce of sleep. And so even then I was using some of the strategies from the book.

So what is possible, even in the fact that I just feel so awful, where are these controllables because I still want to enjoy the time with my children. [00:35:00] And so. These little baby steps of, you know, not just completely giving up, but figuring out, okay, allow myself the space to mourn who I was because I, at that time, I still didn't even know it was happening to me, but then also what can I do moving forward with the pieces that I do have?

And I think in that context, it becomes important, but I don't want to downplay that it's tough, you know, there's no easy solution there. 

Jessica Fein: I appreciate that answer. I will say the notion of thinking about the week as a certain number of hours and finding an hour or two feels more doable. You know, I think about a real game changer and I've spoken about it on this show before for my husband and me was when we decided to give each other a night off.

We were both working full time, you know, three kids, one of whom was on the precipice 24 7. We were in fight or flight constantly for many, many, many years. For us, we were so fortunate that we had each other to rely on and to lean on and to give each other this gift of a night. And it's [00:36:00] amazing what that night, the whole week I knew I had that night coming and it sustained me.

And then on that night, I could meet a friend, I could go write my book, I could do whatever it was I was going to do. But knowing I had that night, it wasn't only the hours during the night when I was enjoying myself. But it really did give me strength all week long, you know, and so it seems like maybe it's a simple thing, but it was really critical.

So I do like that. It's not just like, but I only get one night instead thinking about, okay, I have these four hours, that's four hours. That's not nothing 

Mike Rucker: kind of goes back to that lunch hour only in a much more profound way, right? Because it reminds our brain like something good is coming, you know, and it does allow us to really build the strength of that flexibility.

Like this is not fun, but there is going to be a time where I can enjoy myself and then I'll get back to this because this is still important to me. It's not about hedonism, per se, right? It's just about the fact that we still need to enjoy some of the [00:37:00] time that we have, or really, really dire consequences can happen.

What will happen is you'll burn out to a point that you can't go on, and you won't be able to navigate that situation anyways, right? 

Jessica Fein: Yeah. And I think it's interesting because you talk in the book about anticipation and the power of anticipation. And that really landed with me because I love planning vacations.

And sometimes I think I have more fun planning the trip even than I have on the trip. That's not to say I didn't have a good time on the trip, but I love planning it. And you talk about that there is actually science behind this idea of anticipation. 

Mike Rucker: Yeah, absolutely. What we've learned about dopamine is that actually that excitement is much more in the anticipation than actually the engagement of the activity, which has opened up a whole new sort of era of neuroscience.

Jessica Fein: Okay, so people are listening to this show, they're saying, yes, I hear this, I need to do this, I need my challah hour, and I want to have more fun. So I'm done listening to this show, what are three things I can do tonight to start moving in this [00:38:00] direction? 

Mike Rucker: So the time audit we talked about. Then again, Google Rucker play model.

Look at the construct of that and then start to figure out how you can change your circumstance. Again, an easy way. After you've kind of done the time audit, look at the health meter on your phone. Oftentimes, especially for adults, it's not social media, it's the apps like Slack and Gmail, right? Like, wait, I'm sending 18 hours of email a week.

Is that. Something that potentially I could do differently. And so again, I'm not going to go down the laundry list because for every individual, it's going to be unique. But oftentimes when you look at how you spend your time in the context of those four different quadrants. You can start to figure out, like, there's a lot here I can play with to change my circumstances.

Jessica Fein: I love that. And, you know, for me, one of the things that is most fun is reading. So that's always going to be the thing I turn to. And so people who love reading and want to be having more fun can put those two things together and read your book. Right? The fun habit. [00:39:00] How the pursuit of joy and wonder can change your life.

Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us today. It's so important. And like I said, I knew it would be a fun conversation, literally and figuratively. Thank you so much. 

Mike Rucker: Thank you so much for having me, Jessica. 

Jessica Fein: Here are my takeaways from the conversation with Mike. Number one, when we're not living joyfully and we're constantly pursuing happiness that's around the corner, we get burnt out and do not find the happiness we're chasing.

That is the happiness trap. Number two, we have 168 hours in the week. Try looking at how you're spending them, and figure out how to incorporate some hours that you can reclaim and habitually devote to things that bring you joy. Number three, try out the play model where the P is pleasing, the L is living, the A is agonizing, and the Y is yielding.

How can you spend more of your time in the P and the L? Number four, take the lead of the children in your life. They know how to have fun. Number five, take your vacation time, take a lunch break. You may not be able to go on a holiday, but you can [00:40:00] definitely take a holla hour here and there. Number six, look at the health meter on your phone and determine how much time you're spending in the nothing.

And number seven. We need to recharge our own batteries, even for an hour here or there, especially when we're caring for others. I'm so excited to be with you in 2024. This is my first episode of the year, and there are tons of great episodes coming. I'd be so grateful if you'd help me grow this show. And there are two easy ways you can do that.

Number one, tell your friends about it. And number two, Take 30 seconds to rate and review the show. That's the best way for the show to grow. Have a great day. Talk to you next time. 

Music: I've got the whole I my fingertips. I feel, I feel infinite. I know we're the kind to think along some other lines, but will be fine.

[00:41:00] Come along now. The sky is endless now, we are limitless, we are limitless now. Come along now, the sky is endless now, we are limitless, we are limitless now. The sky is calling, calling out to me, some new beginnings with endless possibilities. Peace. Peace. Are you with me? Can you hear me? When I sing out

Come along now The sky is endless now We are limitless We are limitless now Come along now The sky is endless now We are [00:42:00] limitless We are limitless Are you with me now? Can you hear me now? When I'm singing out When I'm singing out I've got the whole world at my fingertips I feel like flying, I feel infinite I know that we're the kind to think along Some other lines, but we'll be fine

Come along now. The sky is endless. Now we're we're limit. Come now the sky's endless. Now we.[00:43:00] 

We are limitless. We are limitless now. Come along now. The sky is endless now. We are limitless. We are limitless now.