Interview with Dr. Mike Rucker.
Author of "The Fun Habit"

Dr. Mike Rucker is an organizational psychologist, behavioral scientist, and charter member of the International Positive Psychology Association. He has been academically published in publications like the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. His ideas about fun and health have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fast Company, Psychology Today, Forbes, Vox, Thrive Global, Mindful, mindbodygreen, and more.

He currently serves as a senior leader at Active Wellness and is the author of the best-selling book The Fun Habit, which is out now.

He answered some questions on his book for the Paris Book Festival.


1) What percentage of adults would you say are having fun at any given time?

While it's nearly impossible to pinpoint an exact percentage, I can confidently assert that the number is not high enough. Most are familiar with the fact that, as a nation, we here in the United States tend to be sleep-starved. We're waking up to the fact that we're also fun-starved.

Delving into the context of leisure and time off, particularly in the United States, we consistently rank bottom among industrialized nations in regard to the amount of time off provided to employees. This is a critical indicator, as time off is a fundamental prerequisite for leisure and fun. However, even when given the opportunity for time off, it's reported that only about 50% of us make use of it. This underutilization of PTO reflects a broader cultural trend where a strong emphasis on productivity and work often overshadows the value of leisure (and fun more broadly).

This data points to a deeper issue within our society, something I've coined 'a fun deficit' (which comes with problems, just as a sleep deficit does). It underscores the need to reevaluate our priorities and societal norms around work and leisure. Encouraging a culture that values and promotes balance is not just about creating more opportunities for fun, but it's fundamentally about enhancing our overall well-being and quality of life.

2) If we did not have smartphones and social media, would we be having more fun?

In The Fun Habit, I go into the psychological concept of valence, which refers to the intrinsic attractiveness (positive valence) or averseness (negative valence) of an event, activity, or situation. In the context of smartphones and social media, valence becomes particularly relevant.

Smartphones and social media, in many ways, have become tools to displace negative valence. For instance, feelings of boredom or frustration can be temporarily alleviated through the use of these devices. They offer an easy escape, a quick way to engage with something that feels immediately rewarding. However, it's important to understand

that this displacement is often superficial (something I call The Nothing). The time we spend scrolling through social media or engaging with our phones is rarely looked back upon with fondness or a sense of meaningful satisfaction. It's a distraction, rather than fulfilling.

If these digital distractions were absent, there's a compelling argument to be made that we might engage more deeply with activities that have positive valence—in other words, activities we find genuinely fun and rewarding. For instance, without smartphones and social media, we might be more inclined to seek direct, real-world experiences offering a deeper sense of enjoyment and fulfillment. In moderation, both smartphones and social media have value, so striking the right balance between digital and real-world engagement is important.

3) Is fun something that can be experienced just in the moment, or is it something that, upon reflection, manifests itself? In other words, do you have to say, "Gee, that was fun" in order to gain the full measure?

Understanding the mindful component that makes fun so special is indeed important. In this context, mindfulness refers to the ability to be fully present and engaged in what we're doing, which is a key aspect of experiencing fun. It's about immersing oneself in the here and now, relishing the experience as it unfolds, which can amplify the pleasure derived from almost any enjoyable activity.

However, the beauty of fun is that it isn't confined strictly to the present moment. Fun, as an experience, can transcend time. When we reminisce about an enjoyable past event, we are effectively re-experiencing that fun in the present. This form of mental time travel not only allows us to relive pleasurable moments, but can also provide a sense of continuity and connection to our past selves. It's a powerful tool for sustaining happiness and reinforcing positive memories. That's why there's a whole chapter about it in The Fun Habit.

Then, there's the concept of Type II fun, which is particularly intriguing. This type of fun might not be immediately apparent or enjoyable in the traditional sense (while we're experiencing it). Activities that are challenging, demanding, or even uncomfortable can fall into this category. Yet, upon reflection, these experiences often bring a profound sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and joy. They remind us that fun isn't always about instant gratification; it can also be about the fulfillment that comes from overcoming challenges and pushing our limits.

4) If we go to an event and I had fun but my guest did not, can we say that the event was fun? Or is it only fun if we both are on the same page?

Your question highlights the subjective nature of fun. In our personal lives, the answer is relatively straightforward. If you attended an event and found it enjoyable, then for you, the event was fun. Your guest, who did not enjoy it, would naturally disagree. Fun is a deeply personal and subjective experience, shaped by individual preferences, interests, and expectations. What one person finds exhilarating, another might find dull or even

unpleasant. This diversity in experiences is a natural part of human individuality and part of what makes fun so special.

However, the dynamics change when we shift this scenario to a work environment or to a group setting. In these settings, the goal often shifts towards creating experiences that are collectively enjoyable and inclusive. The challenge here is to find a balance that caters to the diverse tastes and preferences of all participants. If a significant portion of the group isn't having fun, it might indicate a need to reassess and adapt your approach to ensure inclusivity and broader appeal.

5) How does fun change? I know many pro athletes, and others claim that they learn that what they used to consider fun is really a business.

The evolution of fun (especially when it concerns professional athletes and individuals who turn their passion into a career) is a multifaceted topic. I learned a lot about some of the nuances here from my mentor, Dr. Michael Gervais. Admittedly, he would be better at answering this question.

What I can say is that when someone begins an activity, like a sport, purely for the love and enjoyment of it, it embodies the essence of fun in its most unadulterated form. However, as this activity transforms into a profession or a business, the nature of that fun can change significantly.

For many athletes and (professionals in similar fields), what starts as a fun, passionate endeavor often evolves into something more complex. The introduction of elements like competition, financial incentives, fame, and the pressure to perform can alter the initial experience of fun. The activity that was once a source of pure joy can become a source of stress or obligation. It's a transition from playing for the love of the game to playing for the stakes of the game.

However, this change in the nature of fun isn't necessarily negative. It can be seen as an evolution or maturation of the activity and the individual's relationship with it. For some, the competitive, high-stakes nature of professional sports (or any career developed from a passion) can bring a different kind of satisfaction and fulfillment—one that is more aligned with personal growth, achievement, and the thrill of overcoming challenges.

More broadly, it's also important to recognize that fun is not a static concept; it evolves as we grow and our life circumstances change. What we find fun at one stage of our life may differ significantly from what brings us joy at another. This evolution is a natural part of life and is influenced by a myriad of factors, including our changing physical abilities, interests, responsibilities, and the shifting contexts of our lives.

6) Do men and women have different concepts of fun?

Absolutely! The concept of fun is as diverse as the individuals experiencing it, and this extends to differences between men and women as well. Each person, regardless of gender, has unique preferences, interests, and ways of experiencing joy. What one person finds exhilarating, another might not find appealing at all.

This variety in what we consider fun adds to the richness and diversity of the human experience. It allows for a wide range of activities, hobbies, and pursuits that people can enjoy. It's important to embrace and celebrate these differences, as they make our interactions more interesting and enrich our understanding of each other.

In essence, the differing concepts of fun among men, women, and (indeed) all people highlight the personalized nature of enjoyment and pleasure. It's a reminder that there's no one-size-fits-all definition of fun, and that's what makes fun so exciting and interesting.

7) How do your theories on fun relate to such theorists as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and Tony Robbins?

My theories on fun do intersect with some of the principles highlighted by thinkers like Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and Tony Robbins (as well as many others), though these two each have their unique perspectives. Both Peale, known for his work on the power of positive thinking, and Robbins, with his focus on personal development and peak performance, emphasize the importance of mindset in achieving a fulfilling life.

Where my work does align is in the acknowledgment that people's attitudes and perceptions play a crucial role in how we experience and engage with the world, including our experiences of fun and enjoyment. While my focus is more specifically on the role and value of fun in our lives, there is a shared understanding across our theories that a positive and proactive approach to life can lead to greater happiness and fulfillment.

However, it's also important to appreciate each approach's distinct nuances and applications. My work specifically explores the intricacies of fun as a vital component of well-being, offering practical strategies to incorporate it into daily life. This is somewhat different from the broader motivational or self-help frameworks proposed by Peale and Robbins.

8) Did you have fun writing the book?

Despite some challenges along the way, I had a lot of fun writing the book. One significant obstacle was dealing with an illness due to complications from an early COVID-19 infection (during the rewrite of the initial manuscript). However, benefitting from the advice I generally share with others, the process of writing the book remained enjoyable and rewarding. It also reinforced for me the idea that fun isn't solely dependent on external circumstances, but can also be a matter of perspective and approach.

Being deliberate about our choices—like who we collaborate with, the activities we engage in, and the environments we choose to operate in at any given time—can significantly increase the enjoyment of any endeavor. In writing The Fun Habit, I intentionally selected my collaborator, Sara Grace, because it was enjoyable to work with her. Working with Sara was a delightful experience that greatly contributed to the fun of the writing process (despite the health challenges I faced during that time).

This underscores a key theme of my work: fun can be found and amplified in many situations when approached with intentionality and a positive mindset. Even in the face of adversity or difficulty, the way we choose to engage with our activities can define our experience of fun.

9) What are you like at parties?

Ha! Great question. At parties, my demeanor really depends on the setting and the people around me. I have to admit, I can be a bit socially awkward at times. In gatherings where I'm surrounded by friends and familiar faces—"my people," so to speak—I tend to loosen up and have a great time. There's a comfort and ease in being with those who know me well, which makes for a more enjoyable and relaxed experience.

However, in more formal settings, I often find myself feeling out of my element. These situations can feel like 'forced fun' to me, where the socializing doesn't come as naturally. Despite this, I do make an effort to engage and connect with others, understanding the importance of getting out of my comfort zone when necessary, while also recognizing and respecting my own limits.

10) If you were the Daddy in the Beach Boys song "Fun, Fun, Fun," would you have taken her T-bird away?

Another great question! And I'm not entirely sure how to respond. On the broader topic of family and fun, however, your question aligns with questions I've encountered recently as a guest on several parenting podcasts: how to be a fun parent and still maintain a level of discipline. To that, I say the focus should be on incorporating fun that works for your respective family dynamics. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, research consistently supports the idea that families that engage in fun activities together tend to have stronger bonds and thrive.

The key is to find a balance between discipline and fun. It's about creating an environment where mutual respect, understanding, and joy coexist. This sometimes means making tough decisions for the family's greater good while still ensuring ample room for shared experiences of fun and leisure.

In the context of the Beach Boys' song, while the decision to take away the T-bird might seem harsh, it's a reminder that fun should be balanced with responsibility and kindness. So, although I don't have a good answer for your specific question, I will say a worthy goal in any family is fostering a loving, supportive atmosphere where fun remains a key component of the family's collective experience (while respect for rules, and respect for one another, coexists in a supportive manner).