Updated: Jul 16
By Rhonda Collins, I Start Wondering Columnist
One of the best things we can do when we face stress or anxiety is to take a 15-minute break to reset the brain. Laughter, diversion from routine, creative challenges and other activities can give help give our brains a total reset.
Now, first, I want to confess that I feel rather guilty even suggesting the idea of finding ways to have fun in an era where so many are suffering right now. However, I believe that having fun is so important to our mental health that we must be reminded of its importance, even when (or especially when) it seems like the world is falling apart.
We know we are unable to help others if we aren’t strong enough to do so. Therefore, we should see our daily dose of fun as an effort to maintain our own mental health. Cindy Lauper had it right. At the end of a long, hard day – or maybe in the middle of one – we need to take a “walk in the sun” and find our path to some fun.
Quick Hits of Fun
For a quick fun break, try one of these five actions – and their numerous variations. They’re easy to do right now by yourself, or by socializing with others, which also can alter our moods and generate better mental health.
1. Get outside with your phone
Movement helps reset our bodies, as well as our minds. The energy we expend burns off those fight-or-flight hormones. Why take your phone? Because the apps on a smartphone can shift a calming walk up a gear, and make it fun, too.
Move and jam – Go for a bike ride, a fast walk or a run while listening to your favorite make-your-toes-tap tunes. I highly recommend a) investing in some good-fitting Bluetooth headphones/ear buds, and b) creating a “playlist” of your favorite downloaded tunes. I just created a playlist that includes everything from Tina Turner’s Proud Mary to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. For a personalized workout, you can pick music at the beats per minute (BPM) that is the same as your target heart rate in a cardio workout. For bonus fun, sing along (out loud!) to really enjoy the groove.
Walk and shoot – Walk slowly and take photos of everything that makes you happy. Whether it’s the blooms on a rose bush or your neighbor’s dog, take the photo. Then, when you get back home, study the photo and think about why it makes you smile. You might also upload it to social media to share with friends, allowing them to smile with you.
Learn about your surroundings – If you love nature and are curious, consider going on a nearby hike and taking photos of plants and trees you don’t recognize. Upload them to National Geographic’s I-Naturalist app to identify and learn more about them.
Record your ideas – Plan your dream vacation, create a new business, invent a joke or develop a plot for a novel while you walk, run or bike. Use the voice recorder on your smart phone to talk through your thoughts and ideas that you can take action on later.
2. Listen to your fun while doing housework
When we can’t go outdoors, we can get our bodies moving by doing something around the house while we listen to something that makes us grin. This will not only generate a better mood but allow us to feel productive for having washed the dishes or swept the floor.
Audio books – Whether you download them to your favorite device or listen to a CD, there are lots of great books to make you laugh. Two of my favorites are Seriously, I’m Kidding by Ellen Degeneres and Bossypants by Tina Fey.
Podcasts – New to podcasts? Think talk radio that you can listen to when you want. Mostly audio recordings, ranging from 5 minutes to an hour or more, they can be interviews, discussions, lectures or a combination thereof. The Guardian lists 50, mostly British, podcasts to make you laugh (warning: some are raunchy!).
Call a friend – While most of these ideas are actions you can take on your own, sometimes the easiest or fastest or best option can be the human connection. Phone a funny friend or someone you shared a fun time with and ask her to make you laugh. Put it on speaker phone, and dust the furniture while you laugh!
3. Hands-on activities
If engaging your hands and your mind is what makes you smile, here are some ideas to get your grin on.
Arts and Crafts – Draw a picture, write a story of a funny thing that happened when you were a kid, play with clay. Learn a new hobby or craft. My friend recently introduced me to “diamond painting” (involving neither diamonds nor painting), which has the crafter sticking tiny rhinestones or beads onto a color-coded canvas. I completed a bookmarker in a few days with just 15-20 minutes each day.
Repairing something – Okay, I know this may sound more like work than fun. However, for some folks, bringing a broken thing back to life is an accomplishment that’s very fulfilling. Plus, it’s one less thing to send to the landfill.
Gardening – There’s something about getting my hands dirty that is calming, and seeing plants grow over time that always puts a smile on my face.
Toot your own horn – If you know how to play an instrument (or enjoy learning), this can be a great way to have fun for a few minutes.
Do a new dance – Dance is a great activity that will burn calories while challenging the mind. And, if, like me, you are not so good at following the teacher, you will have plenty of opportunity to laugh out loud. You can learn about another culture, as well as a hip new dance trend, Bollywood-style Dancing, by watching this video (6 minutes) that one of my student groups put together a while back.
Sports – Throw a basketball at a net for 10 minutes or hit a tennis ball against a wall. Congratulations! You have just done something you enjoy AND gotten a short cardio workout.
Solo card and paper games – Not into physical activity? Sit and play an old-fashioned game of solitaire with a deck of cards. Or for an easy word game, grab a pen and paper, pick a random 6- to 12-letter word or phrase, and see how many anagrams (other words using the same letters) you can make from it. More ideas here.
4. Challenge your mind
If you like the problem-solving aspect puzzles and challenging games, here are a few ideas that can move you to a shout of “Yes! I did it!” accompanied by that satisfied grin that may remain for the rest of the day.
Puzzle books – Keep a stack of these handy for down times. This screen-free entertainment is great for keeping the mind sharp. Entertainment and lifestyle magazine Bustle lists eight of the best crossword, Sudoku and other puzzle books.
Wordle – This is my new addiction. Six chances to figure out a five-letter word. Thank goodness we only get one new word each day or I might spend all day on this game.
Other web-based games – If you type “free games” into a search engine, 14 billion results will come up (Seriously! Try it.), so you have many to choose from. I love the suite of games called Staying Sharp on the AARP website, which are designed specifically to keep older brains at peak performance. They are easy and fun, but you have to be a member of AARP to access the whole collection.
Learn a new skill on the internet – So much to choose from – social media, your grandkid’s favorite video game, knitting, yo-yo, photography – and you can learn so much in just 10 minutes by reading an article or watching a video.
5. Watch or read something silly
These fun options are more passive, but sometimes we need a relaxed sort of fun.
Watch a few minutes of a TV show – For a belly laugh, my current faves are Derry Girls (Netflix), Kim’s Convenience (Netflix), and Young Sheldon (Paramount+) – all good, clean fun.
Check out a TikTok video – At a maximum of 15 seconds, the timing and the humor is geared to younger generations, and you will definitely hear some vulgar language in some. Still, you can find something to tickle your funny bone by going to Tiktok.com, and typing “funny” or “silly” in the search bar. You aren’t required to commit to an account to indulge. Here’s one that made me laugh.
Browse YouTube – Cat clips are popular, but for a new perspective, check out this sure-to-make-you-grin squirrel compilation.
Search online for “joke of the day” to find loads of laughter-inducing options. One of my favorite sites with jokes in many categories (including memes you can post to your social media) is Reader’s Digest, an old-fashioned wholesome favorite.
Read a humorous book – Check out the suggestions in this list of 100 best-selling humor books on the BookAuthority website.
Interact with animals – What’s more fun that playing with your pooch or cuddling a kitten? If you don’t have pets of your own, you can watch cats, dogs, sloths, sheep, bald eagles and more on a large assortment of live-streamed webcams. One great collection is here.
Take a few moments to think about which of these activities – or others that you come up with yourself – are appealing to you. Then be prepared for the next time you need a few minutes of fun by bookmarking a few websites or stocking up on books and supplies. Or take a break right now and bring on the laughs!
Let’s start a conversation about fun. What is a quick and easy activity you like to do to turn your frown upside down? How do you facilitate and maintain joy in your day-to-day life? We’d love to hear your fun ideas.