Where's the fun?

October 29, 2023

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Where's the fun?

A few months ago, I reported an important discovery in neuroscience. Scientists have for decades debated the question of why we humans have such a large prefrontal cortex (PFC), especially since much recent research has shown that its size’s contributes very little to our overall survival.

This area of the brain used to be called the “command and control” center—until we discovered that it controlled and commanded very little, if anything. The scientists behind that study showed that the expansion of the PFC was driven by the reward genes especially serotonin. We have a large brain, they said, to give us pleasure, fun.

Other research has shown that pleasure, life satisfaction and fun to human beings comes from a number of very specific things. These include: being with people you have a lot in common with, receiving support and need satisfaction from those around you, collaborating with people you like, belonging, satisfying curiosity, play and laughter.

These things help us to bond with other people and this bonding kept our ancestors safe from predators, fed and cared for. Having fun with others, learning with them, collaborating with them, playing together and being in nature together are therefore essential elements of our design specs.

Achieving economic goals, owning things, striving for career success—none of these are part of our specifications. The more we neglect fun, companionship and play for these the more mentally ill we become. Long lasting depression, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and its soulmate heart disease are unknown among hunter-gatherers who own nothing.

Just last month another study reemphasized the need for fun and play over other activities. The lead author of that study told us “We all know the old saying ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ and this study shows it might actually be true. There is no benefit to well-being in prioritizing achievement over fun and autonomy. This research shows that there are real benefits to taking time to focus on enjoying ourselves and following individual hobbies and interests. Ironically by doing this, people could in fact be more successful as they will be more relaxed, happier and satisfied.”

As I said the other week, work should be fun otherwise there’s no point to it. The same is true of everything else.

And yet we’ve created a society in which fun is a dwindling commodity. We face increasing technological and other isolation. We strive for economic growth when all that does is destroy our planet. We seek status in position (H-Gs had no leaders) and ownership of goods (who really needs a Porshe or a Rolex watch or a second house?). Yet real safety, and status, comes from being of value to those around you, from being willing to try to meet their needs and also being clear about the needs you have of them. From being part of a community.

We need the contagion of laughter with others rather than streaming services. In person meetings and gathering rather than, Zoom, Teams, Facebook, LinkedIn or Tik-Tok.

We need to rediscover what being human is all about.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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