Do you know how to have fun?
Do you know how to have fun?

Top 10 ingredients of fun

You’ve read the books, you’ve played the games, you’ve even done a course or two on employee engagement, happiness and gamification, yet the one thing that remains vague and elusive is a clear definition of fun.

It’s feels more like playing the lotto getting it right than a scientific and actionable theory that you can implement.

If, with the emphasis on if, you hit the jackpot, you’re payout is big, but most people don’t. It’s all about luck, and you don’t seem to have a lot of it.

What exactly makes something fun? How do you add fun into the workplace, or engage employees and customers? How do you get people to enjoy what they are doing?

These questions and more curiously kept nagging me so I decided to embark on an experiment to define a theory of fun.

Eat. Play. Love.

I spent the next three years playing and analysing fun in different contexts and settings. I played with children, I played with adults. I played indoors, outdoors, with and without technology, I played while commuting and brought play into the classroom. Everywhere I went I looked at my experience through a lens of fun.

And then the answer came. Simple. Straightforward. Easy.

The only true requirement for fun is to be relaxed.

When you go out for dinner with friends while on holiday, it’s fun. When you have to go to a company dinner when all you want to do is kick off your shoes and read a book at home after an exhausting day at work, it’s not.

When you go to the local markets while on holiday in the South of France looking for fresh bread and cheese for lunch, it’s fun; when you have to get the weekly groceries between work and picking up the children from school, it’s not fun.

The more stress, the less fun. The more relaxed, the more fun.

A theory of fun

But that’s as un-scientific and un-do able, so I’ve come up with a list of the top 10 reasons why something is considered fun, in no particular order.

1. It’s fun because it provides a safe environment to experiment.

Compared with ‘real’ life, when you play there are no serious repercussions if you make a mistake or change your mind.

Actually, the bigger the mistake, the funnier it is.

There’s no expectations and no judgement from your play mates. Whether you are the cop or the robber, it is neither good nor bad, it is simply trying out a different perspective.

2. It’s fun if it actively engages your imagination.

Children seem to enjoy something when it actively engages their imagination and allows them to be the creator of their own universe. The same is true for adults, who couldn’t stop talking about superheroe’s and Star Wars for months on end.

The more ridiculous and impossible, the better.

Whether you are drawing, daydreaming, or playing with friends, imagination is an essential ingredient for fun. Creating is the true purpose of having a mind.

3. It’s fun if you can move.

Except for drawing (which involves the use of imagination), I haven’t seen a lot of examples where children have fun without movement.

Similarly, adults are happier when they move around. Whether it is shopping, travelling, or simply going for a stroll, activities involving movement are more fun than those where you have to sit still for prolonged periods.

Maybe that’s why Wii was such a success?

Adding music is even better (see the next ingredient), but whether it is dance, exercise or simply playing Simon Says, movement seems to be the most overlooked and essential ingredient of fun.

4. It’s fun if it engages all your senses.

Good games are excellent tools for escaping the harsh reality of daily life (Jane McGonigal wrote an excellent book exploring this subject called Reality is Broken).

We play games at the end of a hard day at work, to pass the time waiting for the train, or because we’re bored at home.

Games force you to stop thinking for a moment and is much easier than meditation to learn.

When you play a game, especially a fast game (fighting games, racing games etc.), it is impossible to think of anything else and you need your eyes, ears and fingers all on red hot alert to stay alive.

A mind refresher and modern day meditation. The more senses involved, the better the experience.

5. It’s fun if you can connect socially.

Connect. Share. Belong.

Whether you are playing a boardgame with friends, or a videogame alone at home, social connection is an important reason for having fun.

It’s not about the people, it’s about the connection. Feeling validated. Feeling accepted by those around you.

I’ve tried playing games with strangers and it was enjoyable, but by far not as much fun as with familiar friends. A game is fun when you can share a joke and isn’t scared to raise your views of politics or religion.

It’s more fun when you can laugh with the person opposite you.

6. It’s fun if you can get better.

Growth. Evolution. Mastery. Autonomy. Purpose.

Not only are they the ingredients for motivation, they are also the reason why something is considered fun.

Games are in essence the process of mastering a skill incrementally and at your own pace. There is no set curriculum and no hard deadline, yet there is a clear goal and constant feedback as to your progress. And you are guaranteed success, it just takes a little bit longer for some people.

You are at all times in control of your own learning.

You don’t have to wait a year for your performance appraisal and increase, and you don’t have to follow a pre-defined career development plan. And most of all, you’re not forced to stay in a position which isn’t where you really want to be because it’s company policy.

7. It’s fun if it involves something unknown.

Change. Surprise. New. Fresh. Different.

Linked to the ability to learn something new, learning is only fun when you are introduced with something new.

Deep down, we love change and the unknown.

The speed lottery game, musical stairs, the world’s deepest trash bin — they’re all fun because it is unexpected, unusual.

Similarly meeting someone new and interesting at a party, discovering a new place or thing that interests you, or learning a new skill is all fun.

It’s especially fun if you can tell other people about it and thus gain social currency with your friends.

8. It’s fun if it’s easy.

Contrary to popular belief, life is much more enjoyable if it is easy.

That doesn’t mean boring or lacking adrenaline and passion, rather it means that the process is smooth, efficient, well thought through.

I’ve had fun skydiving with my body pumping with adrenaline, but I’ve also had a fun experience applying for a Chinese visa because it was so stress-free.

The keyword is efficiency.

And that translates into optimal use of time and resources. No unnecessary waiting, no redoing the same thing twice, no going to the same place twice (unless it’s the start and end point), no unnecessary detours.

It’s a state of being in “flow”, where you are neither bored nor filled with anxiety. Easy, not boring.

9. It’s fun if you see results.

There’s nothing as demotivating as working on something without seeing the results. Results and feedback make something more enjoyable. The more regular, the better.

When you can tangibly share something to prove your experience socially, it’s more fun.

Whether it is a photo or blog post on social media, or a useless knick-knack you bought on your trip, it’s more fun if you can touch it and show it to someone else.

It’s not so much about the social connection here, it’s more about reliving the memory and physical proof of your experience.

Seeing is believing.

When you tell someone about your holiday, it is so much more vivid if you can show a photo or piece of clothing that you bought while traveling.

10. It’s fun if it’s your choice.

Voluntary. Free. Options. Choice.

This ingredient is so obvious that I nearly overlooked it. But as I was walking home after I finished working on a project, I realized that I really had fun!

I love my work, and I only say yes to projects and people that evoke a very clear ‘Yes!’ when I speak to them. That means that I have full control of my day — how much I work, with whom I work, and which projects I work on. Most things I do are voluntary. It’s my choice.

You can not tell someone to have fun.

It’s only fun if it’s free to choose. No activity, place, or person makes anyone happy. But if you choose the place, person or activity, chances are that you will have more fun doing it.


To gamify a workplace, marketing solution, or system, the key is to find the fun. Once you have a blueprint, all you need to do is apply some of the elements to transform boring into engaging.

So what does fun look like? And how can you make something that is not fun more engaging?

In essence, it’s about removing stress and inducing a state of flow, while satisfying intrinsic motivators. The more relaxed you are, the more fun you have, but the top 10 ingredients are elements that can reduce stress.

How do you have fun in your life?

Originally published on Medium: