How to have more fun

3 ways to optimize leisure time

Fun seems simple, but in reality, it’s elusive. “The number of things to do is countless, the images of friends doing some of these things are everywhere, and choosing is just too difficult,” says Selin Malkoc, Ph.D., associate professor at the Ohio State University in Columbus who has conducted several studies on the art of having fun.

It doesn’t help that work, training, meal prep, family time, and errands take up most of your waking hours. Time famine, the scientific way of saying there are too few minutes in the day, is a fact of life. “But we want to have fun, so we plan it,” says Malkoc. That’s no good. Her research shows that scheduling leisure activities makes you dread them more and enjoy them less, when they should really trigger the opposite emotional response.

In the age of FOMO and chronophobia (that’s the fear of time’s passing, another great side effect of go-go-go lifestyles), these three tricks can help you not just do fun things, but genuinely enjoy them.

1. Be selectively social.
“In our ever busy lives, we’re all increasingly focused on fitting in as many things as possible,” Malkoc says. People measure their social and recreational success by the number of things they do, she explains, not by the quality of each experience. Instead of having countless so-so experiences, be okay with leaving certain things on the table. “This is not to say we should never make plans, but we can prioritize better and let go of our fear of missing out."

2. Go out sans plan.
Too much structure cramps your creativity. “You don’t allow for exploration and innovative thinking when everything is planned out,” says Matt Berenc, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in Beverly Hills. Instead of making a reservation at a specific restaurant, visit an unfamiliar neighborhood without committing to where you’ll eat or shop or drink once you’re there. “This opens the door for the unexpected to happen,” he says.

3. Avoid hard stops.

The rigidity of planning to a T gets more complicated when you schedule several activities in a row, like a run with your workout partner followed by a coffee date with someone else. Malkoc’s research shows that knowing you have to leave one activity at a certain time to get to the next makes the experience feel shorter. “This sense of time constraint would surely decrease enjoyment,” she says. The solution? Space out your plans instead of scheduling them back-to-back.