Pursuing Happiness Versus Having Fun as a Parent: Dr. Mike Rucker

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Written by: Where Parents Talk Staff

Published: Jul 23, 2023

Even being armed with education, knowledge and experience as a psychologist, scientist, researcher and entrepreneur, Mike Rucker Ph.D., suddenly hit rock bottom, lacking the very thing in his life that he now champions.

“I over optimized my life for always trying to be as happy as I could,” Dr. Rucker told Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk. “In 2016, not only did I lose my younger brother quite suddenly, but I also lost my ability to run and that was one of the main activities I had for fun.”

Click for video transcription

Welcome to where parents talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a behavioral scientist, an organizational psychologist, and a thought leader in positive psychology. Dr. Mike rocker is also a speaker, a father, and an educator with expertise in the science of fun. His first book is called the fun habit, how the pursuit of joy and wonder can change your life. Dr. Rucker joins us today from North Carolina. Thank you so much for being here.

Thank you for having me.

Really interesting topic, because I think it’s something that not many of us think about intentionally. But the fact is the pursuit of happiness can be a relentless, lifelong, often futile journey for many people. So should we be pursuing joy and fun, instead of happiness? And if so, why?

So where happiness has become problematic, especially here in the West is kind of putting it on a pedestal as an ideal, right. And so if you look at it, from an evolutionary standpoint, it really was meant to be fleeting, so that we were properly motivated to do things that would lead to our success as a species, right things like eating high, dense calorie foods, right things like procreating. So, you know, this idea of always trying to sort of stay at the top of the pedestal is essentially, we call it the hedonic treadmill for a reason. Because, you know, eventually, you’re going to level set and want to desire something more. But if you find your enjoyment, and fun, and something inherent, and you’re mindful about how you experience those things, it tends to be a lot more sustaining, because you’re not chasing something per se, you’re really enjoying yourself where your two feet are.

So let’s dig into that a little bit more, using the perspective of a scientific lens, what does the science say about the benefits and impact of fun?

Well, one, it allows us to engage in healthier behaviors longer, right. And so sometimes we’d like to think about it as system one, system two thinking. And for folks that don’t understand that concept, haven’t read, you know, thinking fast, thinking slow, essentially, if we don’t have to think about the activities that we’re doing, and they’re enjoyable, and they draw us to them, we’ll do them longer. And so so many of us are looking through the lens of martyrdom, and you know, will kind of derive our self worth through agony, or, you know, like, I just need to grind this out, and then everything will be okay. And ultimately, that’s not sustainable. If we’re always kind of repelled by the things that we’re doing, it leads to burnout. And we’re especially seeing that phenomena here. In North America, right, we’re in 2023, even coming out of the pandemic is some of the worst burnout we’ve ever seen academically, I’ve researched physicians. And in America, specifically, it’s the highest rate we’ve ever seen, it’s 63% of physicians reporting that they’re burnt out. So finding ways to enjoy ourselves more whether at work or hopefully, between work and leisure becomes extremely important that you know, through that lens. And so, it also comes with a whole host of benefits, right? When we’re enjoying ourselves, our stress goes down. And so we can see high correlations with reduced negative outcomes, both physiologically and psychologically, it boosts our immune systems get to when we’re enjoying ourselves. And again, that stress gets reduced, right, we release endorphins. And we know that that makes us feel better, it helps us sleep better, which you know, creates the foundation for solid well being. And then, you know, it comes with the idea of social bonds as well. And so when we know when we’re having fun with friends, we feel more connected with them. And when we do need that emotional flexibility, because something does, you know, bad does happen to us, we have that, that underpinning that allows us to know that, okay, right now, it’s not really that great, but I know that funds waiting for me in the future, once I’m able to, you know, process, you know, whether it be something as benign as just, you know, something casually that bad happens to you all the way up to trauma, you know, being able to effectively process that and then sort of move on with your life.

Lots that you hit on there, but let’s just focus on burnout and stress. For starters, certainly two words that a lot of parents in particular for focusing on that demographic for a minute, can look can attest to and potentially have experienced, probably lately, as a result of the pandemic. You’re a dad yourself. You’ve got an 11 year old and an eight year old. You don’t fund doesn’t always arrive instantly to the minds of parents because We’re busy, we’ve got responsibilities or schedules, etc, etc. How can a parent particularly or any adult, for that matter, pinpoint joy in their lives?

Yeah, I think it’s really a practice in mindfulness, right. So I offer up in the book, the fun habit, kind of five different tools, I’ve packaged them using the acronym saver, but the first is really understanding that you have more agency and autonomy than then you’d likely think, right? When we’re parents, and we’re really burnt out, this can be, you know, both for work and domestic duties, that tends, we get this false belief that we don’t have control over our environment, just because we’re so burnt out, right, we have so little energy, that we have to really use linear thinking to get through the day, right, like, I just need to get through this task list, you know, there is a gender bias to this women, you know, because they tend to have more empathy, you know, moms will just, I have to do this for the folks that I love. So it comes through this lens of, you know, a sense of duty, you know, fathers have other variables at play. But ultimately, you know, when we are just like, I just need to get through the day, we’re not thinking about how we can create transition rituals between the things that we have to do and the things that we get to do. And generally, we get to do a lot more than we perceive. And so the first is that awareness of going, Okay, let me just sit down, you know, there’s 106, eight hours in a week, let me see how I’m spending this. And granted, most of us will have things what I call agonizing activities, that we can’t re orchestrate. But a lot of us have a lot more flexibility and big chunks of time than we think. And so an example I often use for parenting is, you know, and I saw this through observation, you know, a lot of parents will take their kids to the park, because they’re like, I just need to get my kids out of the house and be active, but they’ll sit on the park bench, and essentially just, you know, engage in passive leisure like, you know, thumbing through Instagram or whatever it is just trying to displace the boredom they have, because they’ve looked at this as a work task. And so just a subtle shift of like, wow, these are two hours, I have my children, and I can dictate what we’re actually doing. So in my own life, what I did I go to classes with my kids. So I ended up pulling my daughter using a similar example, I had her going to a tumbling class where I was that parent just sitting on the bench watching her. And so I changed out that activity for doing a daddy daughter dance class where I could actually engage in the activity as well. And so not only was my daughter doing the thing that we wanted her to do, but now I was, you know, creating these amazing memories with her and being an active participant within that one hour of time. So that’s just one example of how, you know, through a little bit of creativity, you can shift these things that I just gotta get this done and do something that’s really fun for both of you. And if you get really creative with it, you know, my daughter is kind of aged out on wanting to dance with her dad. And so we replaced it with cooking. But that’s another amazing activity where we’re co creating these really joyful moments together, you know, both, you know, moving towards a path of mastery. And now we have these memories that we can relish to so the fun sort of, you know, has this added benefit after the fact.

Those are such great examples because they’re so relatable and they really do illustrate what a slight shift and pivot in sort of approach can do. So take us through Dr. Rucker, what does made you decide to pursue fun in your own life?

Yeah, so I found myself endlessly chasing happiness I was, head over optimize my life, I had somewhat a little bit of success as a health intrapreneur at the company I still work for, and everything was really going well for me, but I really started to like, plug in my good days, you know, in a spreadsheet looking for correlations. And the problem with how we look at happiness specifically in psychology, we boil it down to something called subjective well being and kind of rated on a scale of zero to 10. Right? And where that becomes problematic and this isn’t just my own conjecture This is now been widely studied, but one of the initial researchers Dr. Iris mouse at University of California, Berkeley, has done amazing work in this area is that what happens when you kind of reach that pinnacle? Right anything bad that happens? It has you tumbled down the pedestal and that’s exactly what happened to me. You know, I over optimized my life for always trying to be as happy as I could. And in 2016 Not only did I lose my younger brother quite suddenly, but I also lost my ability to run and I was you know, that was one of the main activities I had for fun. So, obviously would way rather have my brother back then my head, but you know, that one two punch of becoming an only child essentially And then not identifying as a runner, which was, you know, one of my main facets of my personal identity really blew me up. And so I kept trying to, like, you know, I can will myself out of this, you know, I’m a helpless optimist like this. And I found that the more I tried to dig myself out of the hole, the less happy I was. And I’ve now come to discover that once you are always chasing happiness are sort of pulled it up as an ideal. So not necessarily value. I mean, it’s important to, you know, talk about semantics here, right, like wanting people to thrive, you know, valuing happiness as an ideal wanting you, your family to be happy, that’s not problematic, where it becomes problematic, especially here in the West lovers, you know, we live in an individualistic society. So we tend to hold on to, you know, the good things, but also really hold on, you know, in our heart, the bad things, that if you’re overly concerned about how you compare, you know, to others, you know, and especially with the advent of social media, where you’re comparing yourself to curated, you know, lives, of your cohorts and neighbors, that energy, that rumination on, you know, where you want to be versus where you’re not, that gap becomes really problematic. And over time, for folks that are familiar with psychology, it’s really cognitive behavioral therapy in reverse, you know, because you’re ruminating on, oh, my gosh, I’m unhappy, I’m not where I want to be, you know, I used to be here, and I want to get back there. And so those negative loops start to bleed in subconsciously, to your identity, and you’re like, well, obviously, I must be an unhappy person, you know, and then once that happens, it becomes insidious, because then you start to look for artifacts and things in your life that support that, because that’s just how human nature is. And so, why juxtaposed to that process of being overly concerned with happiness, and potentially becoming unhappy, if you’re mindful of just where you are, you know, circumventing, you know, in the emotional state, and, you know, preserving time for, you know, unpacking things that are that are unfortunate, if you realize that you have the agency and autonomy anytime, in any given moment to create, you know, fun activities to find that joy in life, to potentially get out in nature and invite on wander, and then you realize that you can bias your life. So that things, you know, are on the brighter side, right, rather than ruminating and expending that energy, kind of not taking action at all. And so that’s the difference. Happiness tends to be this activity and evaluation, we’re really just living in our head and trying to unpack the things that are happening, we’re fun really has this action orientation, right? We’re okay, I get it, you know, being sad, right now isn’t an appropriate emotional response. But I can go to a comedy show, or I can go, you know, if I really just need to unload, I do have the opportunity to invite my best friend to coffee, you know, which is maybe going to be, you know, a melancholy conversation, but going to be enjoyable for me, because I like the company of this person. And so that’s the shift. One is sort of a leading indicator of, you know, experiencing life in a more pleasant way, where the other is really just sitting, you know, I’m living in the past.

It’s so interesting to hear you describe that, because I mean, so much of what you’re talking about is even more acute. Now, because of the pandemic and as a result of the pandemic, and people are really, you know, rediscovering parts of themselves that perhaps they never considered prior to COVID-19. What would you say resonates about the art of fun your book now? Because of the pandemic, even more so than before it?

Yeah, I think, you know, it’s a double edged sword, right. But the silver lining of the pandemic is, a lot of us realize that we were giving too much away, right, I think, you know, it’s Simon Summit, you know, the science Simon, cynics of the world, you know, this idea of knowing your why I think was important, right? That was a big idea before the pandemic. But I think what the pandemic opened up is, you know, what is the, what am I giving away, right, you know, knowing your, what, as much as knowing your why, and so many people had realized that they had habituated their lives in a way that time was passing them by, and that we really got this intimate relationship with time because it was taken from us. And so some people came out, you know, especially the ones that had a slant towards a growth mindset of going, I don’t want to get back to those rhythms of life that were essentially stealing time from me, while others habituated their lives in a way where they weren’t contacting their friends. You know, they were worried about their personal safety and it’s not like we’re out of the woods, right? I mean, you know, COVID still a real thing. So, you saw some folks, you know, kind of take the back that value of time in psychology we call that time affluence, and we know for Folks that sort of value the construct of time over the concept of money, because if you really want to make more money, right, you can trade time for it, but there’s no way to make more time. We don’t know how much we’re given. But whatever that is, is finite. Right. And so using it more wisely, I think was really valuable coming out of the pandemic, because people had that intimate relationship, and some people were making better choices. The other side, you know, like I said, it was double edge, some people because we are folks that like to habituate or behavior, you know, gotten to these rhythms where it’s sort of like, I just need to get through this because I’m afraid of my personal safety. So I think if you find yourself, you know, where you things have become too routine, and you haven’t really come out of the pandemic questioning things, you know, maybe using this as an opportunity to piece things back together in a way that you do have that intimate relationship with time. And so a great way to do that you can easily find this online, I have, you know, something available at share dot Michael record.com forward slash momento dash more. But there’s some other ones as well, you know, it’s figuring out looking at your life and kind of a grid and figuring out, like, how much time do you have left? And just that visual representation can be really meaningful? Like, wow, you know, okay, I want to understand how I’m gonna spend the rest of this time, because a lot of us don’t think about that with the end in mind, right? And so as morbid as that sounds, having that sort of awareness, kind of thinking backwards, and this, these are the things I want to do, we tend to integrate more adventure, get more curious, you know, reach out to our friends, because then we have that intimacy of knowing, like, Okay, I only have a certain amount of time to do these things. And so to circle back to your question, I think that’s another thing. You know, we did see, unfortunately, you know, how quickly the end can come for some, right. And so, you know, valuing that fact. And again, anyone that’s interested in that construct, you know, looking at this idea of time, affluence, like, are you able to spend time in a very autonomous manner, the same way that someone might think about having enough money to spend, you know, and so devising a life that gives you both that type of balance becomes extremely important.

When we talk about parenting and infusing fun into the lives of mothers and dads, I mean, part of it is, if you haven’t done it, you haven’t been deliberate and intentional and mindful of it. People can lose themselves, right in the mundaneness of daily life. So how would you suggest that people, parents try to determine what fun even means to them? Because that can be an obstacle for people who haven’t pursued it?

Yeah. And there’s a bunch of different headwinds for that, right. I mean, it’s a really good segue from the last question, I think, you know, some people you’ll go through that exercise will think back, when you know how you had fun as a child, some of those might not be appropriate. And that’s where people get stuck, right? Like, well, I don’t want to ride my tricycle around the block anymore. That’s not fun, right? Because it can be a good place to start for a lot of folks, you know, they’ll remember that they really enjoy the hobby, you know, perhaps music or whatever it wasn’t, then they can go back to it. But for others, they might have aged out of what they like. And so it really does require to get a little bit curious. And so that is when you can look at, you know, things like social media, specifically with your, your friends, or, you know, just exploring things that might be enjoyable, getting out of those rhythms and just trying a few things. And if the first few things fail, you know, like, let’s say you picked up an improv class, and you’re like, that was absolutely horrible, because I’m an introvert, and, you know, whatever it may be, like, don’t give up, right? Just know, kind of laugh and go, Okay, that’s not for me, but keep experimenting with things that might be enjoyable. Or use your kids as a way to get there. Obviously, don’t if what they’re doing like playing Matchbox cars, you know, is not your idea of fun. Don’t do that. But, you know, engage in dialogue, again, like what I did with my daughter, and maybe it is something that both of you guys can do together because you don’t have the time to go explore things by yourself. The last thing I’ll say, and again, this is something that’s happened in the West is, you know, due to how things are marketed to us, a lot of folks are like, You know what, I’m just not a fun person because they think that higher arousal, extroverted activities are the only way to have fun. This research comes from Jeanne Tsai out of Stanford, we should celebrate things like serenity and calm and peace as being just as fun as going to you know, Rage Against the Machine rock concert and so maybe one of the reasons you think you can’t have fun is because you know, we’ve been kind of forced fed this ideal that fun has to be a night out dancing. Were in for a lot of folks Have fun might be just asking your partner can I have a two hour reprieve because I haven’t read a good book. And while you know, and so whether you want to call that self care or not, you know, fun is just engaging in pleasurable acts. And if, if, you know, that means that your tastes and preferences have changed, and just finding a little bit of time for yourself is what it’s gonna take to have fun, then go ahead and do that give yourself permission, you know, it doesn’t have to be a, you know, an extravagant night out, you can really find fun in the spaces. And it’s so important, I guess, just to like, button it up into a bow, we’re now looking at fun and leisure the same way we looked at sleep in the 1990s. Right? We now know because, again, sleep deprivation was kind of championed, you know, 30 years ago that, that that’s just not healthy. You know, if you’re not getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, eventually you’re going to fall down. And we’re now seeing that be the same. If folks aren’t, you know, at least enjoying one to two hours in their week, let alone their day, that’s we’re seeing this burnout. And so ultimately, if you feel guilty about taking a little bit of time off the table for yourself, no, you’re doing it to be supportive for the folks around you as well, for two reasons. And so the principle here is the hedonic flexibility principle. But what we know, from huge studies, the sample size is 20,000 people, that the folks that aren’t enjoying themselves, ultimately don’t have the vigor and vitality to continue on being productive. So you need to take just like sleep, you need to enjoy a few hours of the week to be able to recharge your batteries. So you can do the harder stuff. There’s also another concept called social contagion, that if you are so depleted of a joyful life, that you don’t feel great, and you know, you essentially, are always worn down, that ends up transferring to the folks that you like, you know, if you’re always kind of in this state of malaise, that the people around you are going to be unhappy as well. So, you know, it’s almost like we’re always in a downward spiral, an upward spiral. And so, you know, trying to create a life with some self compassion. So it’s not like, you want to just add this to your to do list, right. But if you’re not finding joy in anything, trying to figure out how to sort of get out of that, so that you can, you know, create something that’s more uplifting becomes extremely important, not just for yourself, you know, again, if you’re kind of underpinned by this sense of guilt, well, you know, right now I need to be in service of, you know, my aging parents, and my young children know that you’re doing it for them, too. And then the byproduct is you get to have a little bit more fun. So why, why not?

Well, and you know, listening to that description, I’m reminded once again, of the important analogy that we see when we enter an aeroplane. And that is putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on anybody else? And I think that is really well illustrated in what you just described. Dr. Rucker, are there any specific myths as they relate to fun versus happiness that you believe really need to be dispelled in order for people to be able to pursue fun more authentically?

Yeah, I think people get hung up on fun as being this act of whimsy, right. And again, I think we’ve dispelled that already. We know that, you know, if you succumb to only deriving self worth through productivity, that ultimately, not living a joyful life will collapse that And so figuring out what that balance or blend, whatever, you know, some people get hung up on that word. So take bounce or blend whatever works for you, you know, if you have to integrate it without or if you know, transition ritual, from work to leisure works better for you. Doing that isn’t an act of Lindsay. It’s not, you know, self serving, it’s ultimately a way that you can revive the vitality you need to live, not just a productive life, but also one of finding meaning because we know folks that are enjoying the things they do, are the ones that seek out harder challenges. So to eventually, you know, again, this gets a bit existential, but we know that really enjoying the things that you’re doing becomes a necessary component of transcendence. So it’s not just to just be productive. It’s also so that you can, you know, begin to grow. And so it becomes extremely important. So, one of the biggest myths again, is that fun is somehow, you know, superfluous or just the whimsical, it’s sort of been villainized the word has an interesting history, especially here in the English language.

Can you take us through a doctor rocker, we talked about the fact that you’re a father yourself, you’re obviously busy with wearing multiple hats. What have you done, to embrace a fun habit to have a fun outlook in your life and to pursue those activities intentionally?

Yeah, so for me, it’s really leaning in to Do those joint activities with my kids, as you mentioned, you know, unfortunately, a lot of times, you know, as researchers throw big rocks at a glass house, right, but so to create those memories, like, for instance, just the last few days, I made sure, you know, I devised my schedule. So that could be the chaperone for my daughter’s field trip. And that stuff becomes important. You know, again, I mentioned this acronym saver, and the eight part is activity bundling for us that don’t have a lot of opportunities, you know, in the later hours, you know, to engage in leisure, how can we bundle, you know, opportunities for joy into our life. And so that’s one of the things that really been trying to do, you know, follow my own strategies, and bundle things that I really enjoyed doing with a, you know, these acts that already are integrated into my life. And so, yeah, that’s one of one of the most successful strategies of mine that I use myself.

Could you take us through some of the key pillars of the plane model, and how they can support the pursuit of fun?

Yeah, so the play model is really just kind of a mindfulness exercise to be able to look at those 168 hours, play stands for pleasing, living, agonizing, and yielding. And it’s a way to look at the activities in your week, through the amount of energy you expend doing them, and the amount of pleasure they bring you. And so when you look at that model, it’s really easy to find, you know, Googling brettler Play model, we’ll come right up, you know, it allows you to take again, you know, pretty easy exercise of looking at the 168 hours in your week, and plotting them on those four quadrants, and then each quadrant has a way of, you know, potentially pushing it up. So that’s more enjoyable. Let’s take agonizing activities, which are, you know, take a lot of energy and really not enjoyable, like, there’s a whole host of different strategies, are there ways to potentially get somebody else to do it, right. Again, this is sort of rooted in privilege. But, you know, if you look at how much your time is worth, you know, maybe you know, instead of doing laundry, you do fluff and fold, right? Or oftentimes, things that are, you know, really not fun, you can approach them in a different way, right. So I suggest like looking at them through the lens of being an anthropologist, if you step away from a big heavy problem, and kind of look at it from the outside. And oftentimes, there’s a much more enjoyable way of doing that activity. But I think, you know, if we’re trying to wrap up in looking at the lowest hanging fruit, it’s really that yielding quadrant, which is things that don’t really bring us much pleasure, but are really easy to do. And so we engage in that and just to displace boredom or discomfort. And so that’s things like social media use, not necessarily watching TV shows that we’d like, like with a partner. You know, I used to love the watch last, because I love philosophy. So I’m not villainizing watching TV, but things were we just plopped down on the couch, because we’re so burnt out. And we’re, you know, channel surfing. And if I asked you a week from now, you know, what were you watching? You couldn’t tell me because you didn’t encode any of that information? And so those are the pockets that really, how can I do a different activity within this space? Because what we know, and again, we classified as active leisure versus passive leisure, if we’re really enjoying that time, that tends to be invigorating. And so, you know, again, just mindlessly, you know, spending that time doing passive leisure, it doesn’t fill us up, it doesn’t really add to rest, even though we’ll trick ourselves, you know, because we’re on the couch. But when we start to integrate these things that are more enjoyable. When we check in with ourselves, the next day, we we generally do have more vitality and vigor. And but it’s hard to get there psychologically, because, you know, it is just comforting, right? When we’re so tired to just kind of plop down and do nothing. And so that’s how that model can be used to essentially get really strategic about and more mindful about how we’re spending our time and see those pockets of like, oh, my gosh, you know, I’ve been spending six hours on this habitual activity that you know, that I look at it. This is not how I want to spend my time. And so it really can lead to that time affluence that we talked about earlier.
Dr. Rucker, what would you like readers of The Art of fun to leave after reading your book? Please? Oh,
yeah, the fun habit.
Oh, the fun the fun habit.

Yeah, no worries, no worries. Um, so I think is, you know, just the importance of agency and autonomy in our lives, and how much of us have kind of mortgaged off, you know, the time that we have for some, you know, reward in the future when we don’t know necessarily, that’s guaranteed. And so, it’s this paradox, right? We are enjoying ourselves less than less because we think that somehow Now, you know, and especially for us, for those folks that live in a meritocracy that there’ll be some certificate or trophy at the end that will make it all worthwhile. And we know from a whole corpus of research, you know, from the qualitative, like, Ronnie, where’s work, The Five Regrets of the Dying, you know, to the empirical work of all the researchers that I’ve already kind of named dropped, that that’s just fundamentally not true, the folks that are enjoying themselves are actually more productive, do the harder challenges are more innovative and creative, and then look back at their lives, you know, with a lot less regret. And so and there’s a neuroscience in there as well, we know that when you live a life of variability and things that are sort of exciting to you, that we encode those memories more. So if you think of your brain is kind of like a hard drive. You know, if you’ve habituated your behavior, we tend to store those as kind of, you know, in big clumps of memory, and we think back of like, a good example is, you know, for folks that have a common commute. Do you think about the 1000 times that you drove to work? Or do you think about, oh, yeah, this is the way I get to work. But if you were to drive, you know, that to work and 20 different ways, you’d likely remember at least a few of those, and so goes with life too, so that when we’ve catalogued all these fun, sort of exciting things, and added, added fun and novelty to our lives, when we look back at it, we have this rich tapestry of life to look back at. And we know that not only is that more fun, right, quite frankly, but that also it adds to neuroplasticity. So again, it speaks to not just you know that the fact that this does make life more joyful, but also has a host of physiological and psychological benefits too.

Dr. Mike Rucker, author of the fun habit, how the pursuit of joy and wonder can change your life. Thank you so much for your time and your insight today.

Thank you so much for having me.

Grappling with two negative elements in his life —- which happened in short order —- set the behavioural scientist and organizational psychologist on a journey to examine happiness versus having fun through both an evidenced-based and lived experience lens. The end result? His first book, The Fun Habit: How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life, published in early 2023.

“So many of us are looking through the lens of martyrdom, and will kind of derive our self worth through agony, or ‘I just need to grind this out’ and then everything will be okay,” says Dr. Rucker. ”Ultimately, that’s not sustainable. If we’re always kind of repelled by the things that we’re doing, it leads to burnout. And we’re especially seeing that phenomena here in North America.”

In The Fun Habit, Dr. Rucker, explores the inherent differences between pursuing happiness versus seeking fun, and the myriad benefits therein.

“When we’re enjoying ourselves, our stress goes down,” says the married father of two.”And so we can see high correlations with reduced negative outcomes, both physiologically and psychologically. “It boosts our immune systems when we’re enjoying ourselves and that stress gets reduced —- we release endorphins —- and we know that that makes us feel better. It helps us sleep better which creates the foundation for solid well being.”

In The Fun Habit, Dr. Rucker provides tools for readers, including parents —- about how to infuse more fun into raising children.

The Fun Habit book cover“An example I often use for parenting is a lot of parents will take their kids to the park, because they’re like, I just need to get my kids out of the house and be active, but they’ll sit on the park bench, and essentially just engage in passive leisure like thumbing through Instagram or whatever it is just trying to displace the boredom they have, because they’ve looked at this as a work task,”  he says. “And so just a subtle shift of like, wow, these are two hours I have my children, and I can dictate what we’re actually doing. A lot of us have a lot more flexibility and big chunks of time than we think.”

Dr. Rucker practiced his advice with his own children, choosing to sign up in a dance class with one of his kids.

“If we don’t have to think about the activities that we’re doing, and they’re enjoyable, and they draw us to them, we’ll do them longer.”

During his interview with Where Parents Talk, Dr. Mike Rucker also discusses:

  • the pros and cons of pursuing happiness
  • the social, emotional and physiological benefits of pursuing fun
  • strategies for parents to prioritize fun
  • tips on how to infuse fun into parenting

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