Fun ways to spark the serotonin in your brain

Published 3:44 pm Friday, February 17, 2023

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A headline on NPR’s website caught my eye not too long ago. It read “Here’s why you should make a habit of having more fun.”

Well, of course, I was interested! I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and thought deeply about the concept of fun before. Is fun supposed to be a habitual or spontaneous thing? What kind of positive impact does something as simple as fun have on our lives? And what even constitutes as “fun” anyway?

The article provided a lot of good information on the topic, so I thought it might be nice to share it with all of you as well. After all, as the article points out, a lot of people are suffering from stress these days, exacerbated by the pandemic and violence and everything else happening in the world. And that’s having a negative effect on many people’s health.

The answer to counteract all that negativity may be adding more fun experiences to your life.

“Happiness is a state of mind,” said psychologist Mike Rucker in the article. “But fun is something you can do. It doesn’t require education, money, or power. All it requires is intentionality. If happiness is a mirage, fun is your backyard oasis.”

That’s a good point. We might not always find a way to be “happy,” especially when dealing with tough things in life like grief or trauma, but we can always capture a moment of fun here and there. So here are a few tips to add more fun to your life, courtesy of NPR:

Step one: Stop worrying about how happy you are.

Brains are weird sometimes, and that means that for some people, being fixated on reaching “happiness” seems to make the emotion more elusive. So instead, focus on something a little easier to achieve: fun.

But what defines fun? Rucker sums it up as something active and intentional, often includes other people, is something you choose for yourself, and can give a thrill that transcends the ordinary.

I bet if we took a moment to think about it, we could all come up with at least one example of something we like to do that checks all or most of those boxes.

Step two: Find your ‘fun magnets’

The suggestion here is to pick out a couple memories of fun. Then figure out if those moments have anything in common, such as the people involved or the activities being done or the location where they happen. Once you pinpoint the source of fun from before, it’ll be easier to recreate it again.

If you discover that you really enjoy watching movies with a certain person, or traveling to a specific restaurant for a good meal, then you’ve pinpointed some “fun magnets” that you can do again. (I know, for example, I always had a good time eating at the Ahoskie Bojangles, and I’ll be really excited whenever the restaurant rebuilds and reopens!)

Step three: Put fun on the calendar

As someone who likes schedules and to-do lists, this step is perfect for me! But basically, once you figure out fun things to do, make the time to actually go do those things.

It’ll give you something to look forward to, and it’ll be less likely to get overlooked when life gets busy. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to try new recipes. Sometimes it helps to pick a specific time to cook that recipe, so that my ingredients don’t go bad before I have a chance to use them. (Expired foods are the exact opposite of fun.)

Step four: Unplug (seriously!)

I’m sure we already all know this, but many people already spend too much time looking at screens each day. Our phones, our computers, our televisions. I’m guilty of this too because I do enjoy keeping up with social media or watching a bunch of YouTube videos. But too much of a good thing is still too much of anything.

It’s helpful to balance out your time, and that usually means stepping away from the screens for a while. If you struggle with that, try putting your phone or computer in another room for a while as you do something else. Some phones, especially newer ones, often offer settings you can enable that’ll help you keep track or cut down on your screentime.

That’ll leave you with more time to focus on the fun things you’ve already identified you’d like to do more often.

Step five: Share the fun and amplify it

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with enjoying activities on your own, but sharing it with other people often increases the fun. It can be as simple as texting photos of daily joys with friends or as complex as starting a group to share your fun new hobby.

Several years ago, for example, I used to attend a writers group. Each week, we’d meet up and share something we’d written with the group and provide feedback and ideas on what we liked and how we could improve. And then afterwards, we’d often grab dinner together too and talk about much more than just writing. It was a great experience! I wasn’t able to attend anymore after I started working too far to make the commute to the meeting each month, so I ended up filling the void with online writing friends instead. It’s not the same, but it’s still fun to share in a mutual hobby with people.

That’s all the tips from the NPR article, and I think they’re an excellent springboard for getting started if you feel like you’re lacking fun in your life these days.

As for me, I’m always looking to add more fun in my everyday life. It can be little things, like finding a new recipe I’m interested in recreating or singing my favorite songs in the shower (the bathroom has the best acoustics), or bigger things, like watching basketball games with family or making plans for a day trip when the weather gets warmer.

But everybody’s different and so is their definition of fun. Pursue the things you enjoy, whatever they may be. Find what sparks the serotonin in your brain and then go do it!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.