DUCKWORTH: And we would run around and play all these pranks, like pushing all the elevator buttons in the elevator and then watching everybody have to wait
* * *
DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
KONNIKOVA: I’m Maria Konnikova.
DUCKWORTH + KONNIKOVA: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: What makes something fun?
KONNIKOVA: We can publish in Psych Science after this. Let’s go.
* * *
KONNIKOVA: So the other day we got an interesting letter from one of our listeners, Sid Maurer, and Sid writes, “As I was cross-country skiing today, I was pondering the nature of fun. I’m a fairly proficient skate skier, and I enjoy skiing with others, but I can still have a great deal of fun zipping along on beautiful ski trails alone. But going to get an ice cream cone with a friend can also be very fun, where the ice cream is unique — Black Forest springs to mind — or even sometimes when the ice cream is actually lousy. I have also recently greatly enjoyed learning to be a ukulele player. So what is the true essence of fun? Furthermore, how can we find more of it in our lives?” Well Sid, I think that this is such an interesting question and it’s something that I’ve thought about actually quite a bit because a few years ago, for my last book, I ended up leaving the world of journalism to play a game for a good chunk of my life. And for one year while I was researching the book, I played a game full-time. And I was wondering, like, is this fun? Am I doing it for fun? Am I doing it for work? What am I even doing?
DUCKWORTH: Well, what is your answer to that? I have to say, I love the email. I love the detail. I even love the — was it Black Forest ice cream? Which is a cake, I guess, but I can imagine what the ice cream would be like. I don’t know what fun is, honestly, and I don’t really think there is a substantial scientific research literature that’s indexed under fun. It might be like hiding in different places, but I don’t know. Like Sid says, I can have fun when I’m alone. I can have fun when I’m with other people. I can have fun when the ice cream is good, I can have it when it’s lousy.
KONNIKOVA: Come on, Sid. Can ice cream ever truly be lousy?
DUCKWORTH: I know. Maybe it’s like pizza. There’s a floor and the floor is pretty high. But yeah, I don’t know. I have some familiarity with this topic because my advisor, Marty Seligman, was the founder of Positive Psychology. And so if there is a place in the research literature that you should be looking for fun research, I guess you could say positive psychology would be it. But I don’t think scientists use the word “fun” a lot, maybe because we’re not fun.
KONNIKOVA: I think you’re right. When I was trying to figure out, okay, well, what can we look at here? Some of Sid’s descriptions seem more like what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say about flow, and about being kind of in a state of flow. So I would add that to your Seligman Positive Psychology. But when it comes to literature on fun, there’s just not that much. And then when I try to research the history of fun, you have some pretty fun things that come up. So the word originally comes from the word for hoax or dupe.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, it’s like trickery
KONNIKOVA: Which I found was very interesting. Exactly.
DUCKWORTH: Like, negative connotations. Negative vibes.
KONNIKOVA: So this is all anecdotal from Merriam-Webster, so I don’t know, let’s take it with a grain of salt. But apparently it was an invention of the French, which I want to believe, because, you know, you’ve got wine, you’ve got lots of things coming from France. And so they said that France basically invented the concept of fun in life, along with jousting and lace.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, I don’t even think of France as a particularly fun culture. Definitely a culture that enjoys itself, but like, fun? The French are fun?
KONNIKOVA: Yes, as far as the etymology of fun, it turns out that France was where it was at, and then it came to the British Isles after that. But apparently Henry VII outlawed fun.
DUCKWORTH: Aww he was not fun
KONNIKOVA: I know, right? What an interesting thing to do, to outlaw fun. Apparently it was continental vice and the British Isles, they weren’t going to go in for that. And Anne Boleyn, of all people, brought it back to the court. And we all know how that ended.
DUCKWORTH: Oh yeah, not so well. That was not fun for Anne.
KONNIKOVA: There’s a mnemonic that came after Anne Boleyn to help people remember Henry VIII’s wives. And it goes, “No fun. No fun. Died. No fun. No fun. Survived.”
DUCKWORTH: That’s good. I like that. I think I could actually probably remember that. So, etymologically, it’s coming from European — like France, then England. To me, the most, well, fun thing about etymology is that it reveals something, right? Like, what is it really? Because I don’t think we want to use the word fun interchangeably with, like, anything that’s positive.
KONNIKOVA: Yeah, I don’t think we want to do that. And I don’t know that fun is synonymous with joy is synonymous with play. I think that these are all things that are related. It’s not synonymous with happiness or life satisfaction. It’s an element of it. But can you be happy without having fun.
DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. I hope so. I’m really unfun. I’m a nice person. I am usually a cheerful person. I think I’m a pretty happy person. I’m really not a fun person. I think I’m not fun.
KONNIKOVA: Well, I beg to differ. I think you are a fun person. I just think that you are letting other people’s definitions of what constitutes fun filter into your idea of fun.
DUCKWORTH: So you’re thinking that I can be fun in my own way, but like then where are the borders?
KONNIKOVA: No, that’s actually a really, really important question and one that I don’t have an answer for, and I don’t think the literature does. Because people I don’t think know how to define it well because I think there’s something inherently subjective about fun. What is fun for me might not be fun for you, and if you force your idea of fun onto me, even if it’s fun for you, it’s not going to be fun for me because it’s forced. And the moment you force fun is the moment that it stops being fun, which is a very weird way of defining it, but I think there’s something to that.
DUCKWORTH: There is one paper, actually. It is in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2017 — the part of the literature that you would look for fun if you’re going to find it anywhere. The title of the paper is “Fun is More Fun when Others are Involved.” And one of the findings in the paper is that, at least, according to these authors, it’s positive, it’s not negative. That makes total sense. Like, as an emotion, when you’re experiencing fun, you would say, “This is good, not bad, I want to experience it.” But their claim is that it can be a kind of high-activation or high-energy emotion. That’s what I think of as fun, like fun is positive and you’re energetic. But they also, I think, want to claim that in some cases, people experience what they would call fun in a very calm, low-energy, low-arousal way. Like, I guess you could be, I don’t know, doing a crossword puzzle or something?
KONNIKOVA: Or maybe listening to Mozart? Like, is that something that would be fun? See, that’s very interesting to me because do they talk about active versus passive? Like, does fun have to be something where you’re actively involved or can it be something passive, like just taking in music?
DUCKWORTH: In this study, which I don’t know it like the back of my hand, but it’s basically you’re asking people a bunch of questions. Like, “how much fun did you have playing Jenga?” for example, from slightly to extremely. And there, you’re not letting the person know exactly what you mean by fun. So, in this research paper, I guess the question is like when you ask people, “How much fun are you having?” And then you correlate what they say with a range of adjectives that are all, like, emotion adjectives, and, some of them are positive and high activation, so lots of energy. Some of them are positive but low energy. So you’re kind of mapping the emotion space. But in terms of like, “Is it active, is it passive?” I don’t think this study looked specifically at that. I think their focus was like, “Are people around?” And I think what they conclude is that at least the high activation, positive kind of fun, like that energetic kind of fun — that is more likely to be social. So, going back to Sid’s question, maybe that’s why getting an ice cream cone with a friend can be fun, even if the ice cream isn’t so great that day, because it’s a social experience. Like, what’s fun about going out for an ice cream cone with a friend is the friend, less so the ice cream.
KONNIKOVA: I think that there’s something to the fact that fun may more often than not be a social experience because, just anecdotally — because we know that the best data is always anecdotal, right?
DUCKWORTH: You said that, not me.
KONNIKOVA: Anecdotally, I found that to be true. A number of years ago, I was researching a story and for the story had the honor and privilege of flying across the world to dine at one of these ridiculous, wonderful restaurants. It was a story about Heston Blumenthal, who is kind of this —.
DUCKWORTH: I want to know which — was that Spotted Pig?
KONNIKOVA: Blumenthal was reopening his restaurant. It’s not The Spotted Pig. It’s the something-else pig. I will look it up. Fat Duck! Here we go. So I had the chance to fly across the ocean to go to The Fat Duck by Heston Blumenthal, which is this extraordinary experience that I would never in a million years have had. That should be fun — and in every single respect, right? Because all of your senses are involved. This is just one of those meals that should be life-defining. But I had it without anyone I cared about because I was just doing this as a journalist. And so even though I had one of the best chefs in the world personally cooking for me and all of this hooplah, and all of these amazing things going on, it’s not even in my top 10 dinners that I’ve ever had in my life because I was alone and I had no one to share it with, and I had no one to share those memories with. And I was documenting them all very carefully for the piece and the piece did well and all of that happened and that was great. But the dinner itself wasn’t fun. It felt more like work and obviously it was work.
DUCKWORTH: What was it like? I mean, you were enjoying the food in some sense.
KONNIKOVA: Absolutely. On a cognitive level, I can tell you that that was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. But on a sensual, “I enjoyed this, this was a lot of fun,” I actually wouldn’t say that because the memories are very different. I don’t have warm conversation. There was no one that I could really experience it with that mattered to me. I’m actually curious about this with you. If you think about the best meals you’ve ever had, the best evenings you’ve ever had, are they the ones where you had the best food or the ones where you had the best company and the best memories? And maybe it’s the best food. I’m just curious.
DUCKWORTH: I don’t know about the best meal in terms of fun, but I know the best childhood memory I had. I have two in particular. So, we’re coming back from Great Adventure, which was this — well, is, I guess. It’s still around, I think. An amusement park somewhere in New Jersey. I also lived in New Jersey, but it was something like an hour-long ride. But I distinctly remember my sister and I — I don’t know, there was some joke we were making. It was of course a really dumb kid joke. I think at the time, this Great Adventure amusement park also had one of these outdoor safaris and you, like, drive through the safari in your own car. And I don’t know what the safari was — it’s New Jersey, so let’s assume it wasn’t all that exotic.
KONNIKOVA: Is this the Six Flags safari? Because I’ve been to that one in New Jersey when I was a kid.
DUCKWORTH: Same park. So Great Adventure, Six Flags — I don’t know if one is like the conglomerate that owns the other, but yeah, the cars would just like crawl through. It was almost like a car wash, because you would just be going by at like three miles per hour. So, you can mentally transport yourself there.
KONNIKOVA: I’m there.
DUCKWORTH: You’re there! Right where you could’ve been in the back seat. And I remember this was a joke. It’s so unfunny, but we would look out the window. And my sister said once, like, “Oh, what is that?” And I was like, “I don’t know, African deer.” And then the next time we saw an animal, it’s like, “What is that? African deer.” This is so not funny. I don’t even know why we laughed the first time, but it’s like one of those things where you’re just like — you’re practically peeing your pants. It was so fun. And yes, it falls into the category of social. I can’t imagine looking out the window saying “African deer” to my parents in the front seat, being all alone in the back seat, and finding anything amusing about it. So that’s one fun experience. And I’ll tell you another one. And then maybe, you know, two data points, that makes a line, you make a theory.
KONNIKOVA: Definitely. We can publish in Psych Science after this. Let’s go.
DUCKWORTH: So another childhood memory I have of, like, really having fun is being on a cruise ship. And I think I was like 5 years old. I’m partly dating this based on the photos of the experience. I’m wearing this white dress that I’m sure my mom got at Kmart, but I just thought was so glamorous and so wonderful. And the thing that made that vacation fun is that my brother and sister and I would run around. So they were older than me by like four years and five and a half years, respectively — something like that. Actually four and eight years. I’m miscounting. Anyway, they’re a lot older than me, but still kids. And we would run around and play all these pranks, like pushing all the elevator buttons in the elevator and then watching everybody have to wait for the elevator — so, you know, mildly antisocial things that were probably in the harmless category. And I, to this day, will say it was the most fun times in my life. So, I guess I’ll leave it to you, like your psychological powers. From those stories and your non-fun dinner, what can we hypothesize about what really makes something fun?
KONNIKOVA: Okay, so first of all, I’m just going to say that I wanted to interrupt you when you said one of your most fun memories started on a cruise ship. I was going to say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” Because in my mind, the definition of hell is a cruise ship.
DUCKWORTH: Not when you’re 5.
KONNIKOVA: It’s just claustrophobic to me. I do not want to know that I am stuck somewhere and I cannot get off. So I have never been on a cruise and it is just my definition of hell. That actually goes back to what we were saying about the fact that fun in a broad sense is subjective and something that might be fun to you is not fun to me. So, I just want listeners to know that cruises are awful.
DUCKWORTH: Don’t take Maria on a cruise. Okay, noted. But I think you’re right. Like seriously, on this topic of fun, I think that’s actually really important. What I find fun can be totally different from what you find fun, but still there has to be some phenomenology, some experience that we have some common ground for.
KONNIKOVA: I think there has to be some phenomenology. So, positive, yes. Social? I do think there’s something to that. We can maybe caveat it that maybe you can have fun in non-social ways too. But it’s easy to think of social settings as enhancing. But in terms of phenomenology, I mentioned briefly that part of Sid’s description made me think of flow, and it’s really interesting because we’re getting into a circular definition problem, but Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. So he is the psychologist who coined this term flow. I’m going to quote his definition. He says that flow is quote, “The kind of feeling after which one nostalgically says ‘that was fun’ or ‘that was enjoyable.’” Isn’t that interesting that he defines flow as something where you look at it and say, “Oh, that was fun.” And we’re trying to say, “Okay, if something’s fun, maybe it had an element of flow.” So these are all things where they seem to be interconnected, but we’re not quite sure how to just really put our finger on it.
DUCKWORTH: I don’t think that all fun experiences have to actually have a component of flow. I mean, I think that when Csikszentmihalyi defines flow, — I think what he’s emphasizing there is that while you’re in the flow state, you’re not actually experiencing anything that you would recognize as being enjoyable or fun because your attention is all on what you’re doing. So if you’re, you know, playing a game of poker and you’re completely in the flow state, your attention is so much on your hand and what you’re doing that you don’t have any attention left over to experience the emotion of pleasure. But then after the fact you can say like, “That was optimal experience. That was the most fun I ever had.” So that may be partly the way I think of flow, but I think that is one of the mysteries of flow, that when you’re in the flow state, you’re just so in flow that you’re not feeling — in a way, you’re not feeling much of anything, right?
KONNIKOVA: That makes sense. It also points to one of the other things that people use when they’re trying to define fun, which is your perception of time or this feeling of time distortion. We’ve all heard the saying, “time flies when you’re having fun.” And I think that that’s something that people sometimes look to external cues to say, “Wait, was that fun?” And when they’ve experienced time distortion, which can come from flow, they say, “Yes, it was fun.” Now, of course my favorite version of that quote comes from Kermit the Frog. And he says, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”
Still to come on No Stupid Questions — do animals have fun?
DUCKWORTH: And they laugh. Like they laugh in their own high-pitched way.
* * *
Now, back to Maria and Angela’s conversation about fun.
DUCKWORTH: Well, here’s the thing about all of this. There is something light about fun. Like you could say that the emotion of pride, for example, is not like a light emotion. It’s a good emotion, like I want to have it. Or “meaning” or “purpose” — it’s like, I love feeling that, but it’s not light. And I think you said like, “playful” or “play” is not the same thing as fun. It can’t be synonymous, but I think there is something definitionally playful about fun. And here I think about then, what is play? Which is almost as difficult to define. But here, there’s a huge scientific literature because scientists are fascinated by the fact that children play and adults, in most ways, don’t. At least we don’t play the way we did when we were kids. I think if you then ask the question like, okay, fun seems like a playful thing, but then what is play? You know, play to me is this kind of “as if” behavior that we engage in. We’re learning meaningful skills, but we’re doing them in some, like, “as if” imaginary world or in a game that’s — you know, there are rules and there’s a goal, but this is not for real, like this is not real stakes. I wonder whether that helps at all or just digs us a deeper hole. But I don’t know. What do you think? I mean, as somebody who has worked to play and played to work and probably thought about it a lot.
KONNIKOVA: I think it’s helpful, and I do think that if we use play, not as a proxy for fun, but as a component of fun or as a type of activity that’s fun that can be incredibly helpful because it is easier to study play, and to show that play is actually an incredibly important, integral part of development. And I love, actually, some of the literature shows that this is something that is actually quite fundamental — that it’s not just about humans, that animals play and that animals actually often learn. There was a very fun study, Angela, that was done in 2019 with rats by this researcher Annika Reinhold, and she taught rats to play hide and seek.
DUCKWORTH: So cute.
KONNIKOVA: She didn’t actually use the typical learning paradigms that you do with rats, which is electric shocks on the negative side, or food pellets, you know, sugar, on the positive side. She wanted to use these playful reinforcements. So if they learned well, do you know what they would get? They would get tickled. And they love it.
DUCKWORTH: And they laugh. Like they laugh in their own high-pitched way.
KONNIKOVA: Absolutely. So she used tickles as the rewards for learning and they performed incredibly difficult things in hide and seek, and they exhibited — this is one of my favorite words in the world. It’s a German word: Freudensprung, or little joy jumps.
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh, this is so much better than Schadenfreude, like one of the only German words I know. That’s the opposite.
KONNIKOVA: Freudensprung can be your new German word. Joy jumps! And that’s such a pure, fun, playful reinforcement. Just tickle the rat. You’re not giving them food, but they want those tickles and there’s something that’s wonderful about that.
DUCKWORTH: Okay, this may be a branch of a branch of a digression of a word — but like, tickling. Okay, so we’re not on planet fun, but I don’t know, tickling has gotta be a really close moon. Maybe tickling is on planet fun. Like why do we laugh? I think it’s really interesting that you can tickle a rat and I think you can tickle other species, right? Can you tickle a dog?
KONNIKOVA: I think you can. Yes, absolutely. And they enjoy it and they will sometimes just give you their stomach to be tickled. This is really interesting, and I didn’t necessarily mean to go here, but there is a physiology of fun. And this goes to what we were talking about with arousal and with all of these sorts of things. But we do know how strong and how important the mind-body connection is. So I would not be at all surprised if when we dug down deep into it, we found that a lot of these fun activities did have some of these physiological components that we can get in a more distilled form with something like tickling.
DUCKWORTH: So is it that our evolutionary history has inclined us to enjoy some of these things? Or is it that some of this machinery that has a serious purpose just got, like, hijacked for other reasons?
KONNIKOVA: I don’t know. I think that it hasn’t been hijacked. But by the way, the other thing about tickling: you can’t tickle yourself. We were talking about the social elements of fun. So someone else needs to be present in order for you to be tickled.
DUCKWORTH: If someone were like, “How fun is that on a scale from zero to 10?” It’s like reading the dictionary, watching a movie alone, watching a movie friend, tickling has to be a 10.
KONNIKOVA: Hey. Hey. Reading the dictionary is really fun.
DUCKWORTH: Okay. Unless you’re Maria Konnikova. But like, you point out, like, you can’t tickle yourself. So already we’ve got the social element in there, right? You’re not eating dinner alone at a fancy restaurant, you’re with somebody else. But like, I do wonder about that. I think these are mysteries and mysteries and mysteries, but the fact that tickling is something that is kind of painful — sort of, right? Like I remember being tickled and — I don’t know, I haven’t been tickled in a long time, but you really don’t want it to stop, but you also don’t want it to continue. I don’t know. I feel like a little more confused about fun than when we started with Sid’s question. But now I’m thinking like, what the heck? Why is tickling fun?
KONNIKOVA: It is a mystery, but I think that it does draw on a lot of these things where you know that it’s playful. So here we get play again, because someone isn’t tickling you to hurt you.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah it’s “as if.” It’s imaginary.
KONNIKOVA: Exactly it’s imaginary.
DUCKWORTH: Like, we’re going to go into an alternate reality now.
KONNIKOVA: Exactly. You’re with someone else. So I think all of these things probably come together to create this element of fun. And I’m also just thinking a little bit more about your question about whether there’s something evolutionarily meaningful to this or whether it was hijacked. And I do still think that it must be meaningful because there are psychologists who would argue that animals actually can learn — and humans — by playing games. I’m thinking right now specifically of the work of the behavioral psychologist John Pilley, who did a lot of work into canine psychology, and he worked with his own dogs.
DUCKWORTH: Was he like Piaget except for he doing it on his dogs?
KONNIKOVA: Exactly. Yeah. He had a Border Collie named Chaser. And Chaser was just this absolutely brilliant Border Collie, who apparently knew over a thousand words and different commands and all sorts of different things. And the way that Chaser learned was through play. So they didn’t do reinforcement learning through food or through anything like that. They just spent hours and hours playing and running together and something that Pilley wrote about it was actually interesting to me. He said, “We have found that play is infinitely greater than food. It’s not as distracting, and dogs don’t satiate on play. Play has to depend upon the dog’s basic innate endowment as far as instincts are concerned. The expression of these instincts brings tremendous joy to the dog and powerfully reinforces behavior. “
DUCKWORTH: You know, I do not have a dog. Do you have a dog?
KONNIKOVA: No, I’m allergic to dogs. I’m sorry.
DUCKWORTH: We are the only two people in the world who don’t have dogs then, or are not imminently about to get a dog. Don’t you feel like everyone has a dog now?
KONNIKOVA: Yes, absolutely.
DUCKWORTH: Okay, so now we know not of what we speak because we’re not dog owners. But I live near a dog park and it’s one of the most fun places to be in Philadelphia. There’s nothing special about the dog park. All it is, is like a green space that has the two doors I guess your dog doesn’t run off somewhere. And like, oh my gosh — first of all, all of the dogs are having fun. I mean, I’ve never seen a mopey dog in the dog park. Maybe it’s selection bias, but I think it also then raises the question like, why would it be? Most emotions that we experience that are intrinsically rewarding have some evolutionary purpose. And I guess you could answer that with, “Well, when we play, we learn.” So we have evolved to enjoy this kind of “as if” learning space that we enter when we’re playing. I mean, that would be my, like — I’m in a final exam, I don’t know the answer to the question, but I’m going to write this. Like, I don’t know the answer to the question, but this is what I would speculate.
KONNIKOVA: I think that your speculations are spot on. And I would actually say that my experience with poker reinforces that because we know from psychology that the human mind learns better by doing than it does by being lectured to — that when you can actually experience things, it sticks better. That’s one of our problems, why we’re so bad at statistics because we experience the world in a very biased fashion. But I think that maybe those types of pleasurable, fun, game-like experiences really do help us learn about the world. And I think you keep saying the word “safe,” and I think that’s a really, really important word because in a game, in a fun situation, you have a zone of psychological safety where you can experience different things, try different things out, and there are no real-life consequences. And that enables you to go through many more scenarios to grow, to test things out, to learn, to become a smarter version of yourself, especially as a child. And it’s one of these things that, I think, gets to the heart of fun and might be why we like to do it. Which brings me back to Sid and to how many of those experiences he found fun, from skiing to eating ice cream. It’s really incredible to be able to derive joy and fun out of life. And I’d actually love to hear from our listeners about what they do for fun and what some of those fun experiences are for you. How do you feel when you’re doing it? How would you describe your experiences of having fun? So if you tell us your name, where you’re from, and send in a recording. Record it in a quiet place, just put your mouth up to the phone, email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com, and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. And maybe in doing that, we’ll actually get a little bit deeper into what fun actually means and why it’s important, not just from a fun standpoint, but from the standpoint of evolution.
DUCKWORTH: Now Maria, this conversation is giving me some apprehension about my un-funness. I came right out and told you I’m —.
KONNIKOVA: And I told you that you’re very fun.
DUCKWORTH: You did. You did.
KONNIKOVA: You just need to alter your definitions.
DUCKWORTH: You tried to assure me that I’m fun, but I’m not sure that I am. And I think even in your generous definition of, “Fun can be different for you than for me, Angela.” When I think about the things that Sid is doing for fun, like having ice cream with friends and going skiing, going skiing by himself, going skiing with other people, learning to play the ukulele, I’m thinking to myself like, “Okay, I may not be doing those exact things, but am I having some version of fun in my own life?” And don’t know, I think I have a little room to grow there. Can I ask you, what are the top three sources of fun in your life right now? Are you going to say like poker, poker, poker? What is fun in your life?
KONNIKOVA: I mean, I would definitely put poker there, but it’s not the only one.
DUCKWORTH: Okay you have two more slots, so you have to fill them.
KONNIKOVA: I would say one of the things that I absolutely love doing is being in nature and going on hikes and doing things outdoors with someone — with my friends, with my husband. That’s one of the most fun things I do. And when I’m in the city, when I’m in New York, the hikes are very urban hikes, as in Central Park or Prospect Park, and they’re not actually hikes because there are no mountains involved. But those types have just —
DUCKWORTH: I think it should count, though. Prospect Park. Thank counts.
KONNIKOVA: Just, yeah, walking and being in nature and those types of things I find incredibly fun. And this is going to sound very nerdy, but reading. I love reading and reading fiction and reading poetry, and this is something that’s not with someone else. This is actually very antisocial, but I find it incredibly fun. If I can think about, like, an ideal evening, it would be curled up with a book at home with a nice glass of wine and knowing that I could be out somewhere, but I’m not.
DUCKWORTH: Mm, I really like that. I’m going to subtract the wine from my scenario, but like, I want to say to Sid, even though you probably don’t want to hang out with me, because I am not a fun person, your question has made me realize — and actually Maria, your top three fun activities — they give me some assurance. Because I, too, have a husband with whom I like to take walks. I’m more likely to be walking on pavement with him. But that would definitely enter my top three as fun. I think walking around for whatever reason is incredibly fun for me if it qualifies, because it is a kind of quiet fun. It is a little bit of a low-activation or low-energy fun. I also love reading, so if I were curled up —.
KONNIKOVA: It definitely qualifies.
DUCKWORTH: Does it qualify? Okay we’re going to just rule that it does and, anyway, like we said, there’s not a lot of science on this, so we can, to some extent just declare. So I think you know, reading almost anything that’s just good writing. That’s fun for me. And then I’m going to enter as my third slot, watching Ted Lasso. So that is fun for me. I know I can’t do that forever because it’s going to run out, but I do love Ted Lasso and that’s fun.
KONNIKOVA: See, that makes me so happy, and I’m so glad that that’s fun for you because I am probably one of the only people in the world who doesn’t like Ted Lasso.
DUCKWORTH: Have you tried it?
KONNIKOVA: I have, yes. I watched the first season.
DUCKWORTH: You didn’t like it?
KONNIKOVA: No, I thought I thought it was fine, but I had no desire to watch the second season.
DUCKWORTH: Okay. Well there’s a very profound lesson here, which is your fun and my fun may not be the same thing. Sometimes it is.
KONNIKOVA: And yet we’ve taught you that you are fun, Angela. You are a fun person.
DUCKWORTH: Yes, maybe that is the true lesson of the story is that Angela’s fun? Well, let’s make it that.
KONNIKOVA: Yes. I think the true lesson of this entire episode is that Angela is fun and that you and I can get together and read books and have a wonderful afternoon and say, you know what? That was fun.
DUCKWORTH: I think that sounds great.
KONNIKOVA: It’s a date.
This episode of No Stupid Questions was produced by me, Katherine Moncure, with help from our production associate, Lyric Bowditch. And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation. Early in the conversation, Angela is uncertain about the relationship between the Six Flags and Great Adventure amusement parks. Great Adventure is a New Jersey park that opened in 1974 and was purchased by Six Flags in 1977. Then, Angela says that when you’re being tickled, “you really don’t want it to stop, but you also don’t want it to continue.” Maria adds that, “someone isn’t tickling you to hurt you.” That isn’t always the case. Experts say tickling can make children feel helpless, and that prolonged tickling can be a form of bullying. Dr. Alan Fridlund, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says that extreme tickling can cause “cataplexy,” or temporary paralysis. He advises ticklers to regularly pause and check in with the person being tickled. That’s it for the fact-check.
And remember, we’d still love to hear about what fun means to you. Send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. Let us know your name and whether you’d like to remain anonymous. You might hear your voice on the show!
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: we’re replaying one of our favorite conversations from Stephen and Angela, about the difference between people who use their new stuff right away and people who preserve and treasure it.
DUBNER: What about plastic slipcovers on furniture? What’s your position on that?
DUCKWORTH: Having grown up with many, many relatives and neighbors who had the whole house, like, laminated. I have to say, maybe that’s why I don’t like to preserve things.
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
* * *
No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. We had research help from Joseph Fridman and Dan Moritz-Rabson. Our executive team is Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, and Stephen Dubner. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
DUCKWORTH: Boom. Boom!
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University.
- John Pilley, professor of psychology at Wofford College.
- Annika Stefanie Reinhold, doctoral student in public mental health at the Central Institute of Mental Health.
- Martin Seligman, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of Positive Psychology.
- “The Case Against Tickling,” by Jenny Marder (The New York Times, 2020).
- “Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Hide-and-Seek in Rats,” by Annika Stefanie Reinhold, Juan Ignacio Sanguinetti-Scheck, Konstantin Hartmann, and Michael Brecht (Science, 2019).
- “Fun Is More Fun When Others Are Involved,” by Harry T. Reis, Stephanie D. O’Keefe, and Richard D. Lane (Journal of Positive Psychology, 2017).
- “The History of Fun,” by Merriam-Webster (2016).
- “Tea and Flies With Kermit the Frog,” by John Hind (The Guardian, 2013).
- “Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words,” by John Pilley (2013).
- “Why Gamers Can’t Stop Playing First-Person Shooters,” by Maria Konnikova (The New Yorker, 2013).
- “Rats Laugh, but Not Like Humans,” by Jesse Bering (Scientific American, 2012).
- “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds,” by Kenneth R. Ginsburg (Pediatrics, 2007).
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990).