Increasingly, I’ve noticed a trend in how people are describing “having fun” – and so much of that time, what they’re doing is scrolling thru TikTok or Instagram – Reddit or Quora – or any online communications app. Even people who are actively struggling with depression will tell me how the major way they “distract” themselves is through focusing on what they can find on their screens. This… despite all kind of studies showing that the more you interact or are “on” your phone, the more depressed you can become.
I’m not advocating that anyone get rid of their phone. But… I do think that a way out of depression is finding tiny bits of fun. I found a “fun” expert – science journalist and TED speaker, Catherine Price.. We’ll talk about her work and research – and use it to wonder together about how you might be experiencing depression and still be able to find “fun.”
On a much different note. the voicemail today is from a woman who’d told her husband she was leaving him due to his narcissistic behaviors over 40 years. And then, he fell, broke his back and required extensive hospitalization and has become someone who needs ongoing care for a dementia that will only worsen over time. What would you do?
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Other Vital Links:
Catherine Price’s TED talk
Catherine Price’s book How To Break Up With Your Phone
This is SelfWork. And I’m Dr. Margaret Rutherford. At Self-Work, we’ll discuss psychological and emotional issues common in today’s world and what to do about them. I’m Dr. Margaret and SelfWork is a podcast dedicated to you taking just a few minutes today for your own selfwork.
Hello and welcome or welcome back to SelfWork. I’m Dr. Margaret Rutherford. I’m a clinical psychologist and about seven years ago now, or almost seven years ago, I decided to extend the walls of my practice to those of you who might already be very interested in psychological issues or have sought therapy for yourself, to those of you who’ve just been figuring out some sort of problem or issue and you want some advice, and to a third group, to those of you who might be just a little more skeptical about mental health treatment and what you could do to help yourself with depression or anxiety, I’m glad for all of you to be here. I wanna remind you that my TEDx talk is out and I will have the link for it in the show notes. I’m very excited as I record this. We’re closing in on 9,000 views and it’s only been out for four or five days, so I’m so pleased that the message is getting out and you’re part of that.
So if you’ve already listened or viewed, actually thank you for that. You can let me know by commenting. And for those of you who want to, it’s about a 15 minute video on YouTube. You could also just go to YouTube and put in Dr. Margaret Rutherford and TEDx and it’ll come up.
So today we’re gonna be talking about having fun. Increasingly, I’ve noticed a big trend in how people who see me are describing having fun and so much of that time what they’re doing is scrolling through TikTok or Instagram, Reddit or Quora or any online communications app. Even people who are actively struggling with depression will tell me the major way they distract themselves is through focusing on what they can find on their screens. This, despite all kinds of studies showing that the more you interact or are on your phone, the more depressed you can become.
I have a cell phone, which I use quite a lot, and I have fun on some of the apps I have. I get it. Yet.just this morning when my husband and I went out to a local diner for breakfast, we saw a couple. And then they weren’t young, but they were older, both with one hand holding their fork with their food, while with the other hand ,they were scrolling through their phones. No conversation, no sharing, and they were definitely not having fun together.
So today I’m not advocating that anyone get rid of their phone, but I do think that a way out of depression is finding tiny bits of fun. aAnd I found a fun expert, Catherine Davis, whose Ted Talk will be in your show notes. She’s a science journalist and has written a couple of very successful books and she’s really fun to listen to.
We’ll talk about her work and research and use it to wonder together how you might be experiencing depression or anxiety and still be able to find fun. It’s also important to be aware that having fun itself is a way out of depression, even though that very statement may seem counterintuitive. How can you have fun if you’re depressed? We’ll focus on that and of course, what other things you can do about in this episode of SelfWork.
On a much different note, the voicemail today is from a woman who told her husband she was leaving him due to his narcissistic behaviors over 40 years. And then he fell, broke his back, and required extensive hospitalization and has become someone who needs ongoing care for dementia that will only worsen over time. I’ll try my best to answer her question first.
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People ask me all the time, “How do you do what you do and not get down or depressed yourself?” My first answer is usually because I see so much courage and fight, although it can be hard to hear about the abuse that we humans and especially parents can force onto children. But I also have fun. I laugh all day long with my patients about various and sundry things and I can see a little bit of light in their eyes when they catch themselves enjoying a laugh or recognizing some amusing irony or another in their own lives.
So I wondered what I might find in research about having fun and I found Catherine Price. I found a reference to her first in an article by Laurie Santos about her work at Yale where she teaches an extremely popular course on happiness, and I’m gonna have that link in your show notes as well.
It’s a great article. So she quotes Catherine Price. So I went to go look her up and I think her work’s refreshing and more importantly, kind of fun to think about.
First, who is Catherine Price? Well, here’s her byline. With a background in science journalism and an unshakable curiosity about the world. Catherine Price helps people question their assumptions, make positive changes in their lives, and see mundane things like phones and vitamins in a different more philosophical light. She’s also the author of How to Break Up with Your Phone, which is a huge bestseller and I’ll have that link for you. So that description intrigued me. I like to think of myself as a very curious person and I think that curiosity helps me to stay energetic and I love to laugh.
So, I was more than interested in what Catherine had to say. I watched her Ted Talk and frankly it was funny, she’d reached out internationally and asked people what fun was to them. She got some hilarious answers like roast a Turkey, which I guess could be fun. But what she mostly noted was that many of the answers, in fact most of the answers described doing something, I have fun when I cook, or fishing is fun, or watching old movies is fun. But she believes fun is a feeling, not necessarily an activity. And she goes on to talk about three kinds of fun: fake fun, true fun and activities that bring a sense of fun things that are enjoyable, like taking a bath or talking with a friend.
So let’s first talk about fake fun. And this resonated so much with what I hear from the TikTok or Instagram addicted people I see as clients. These folks will say to me that they believe scrolling is fun until they realize that it’s grown to be addictive. It becomes as Catherine Price calls it, a passive compulsion and one where social comparison happens in a negative direction, which isn’t fun at all.
In fact, this kind of scrolling only increases self-doubt and leads to self-loathing because of what the scroller can then chastise themselves about wasted time being late because you were staring at your screen literally having to have a hit of TikTok before you do anything on your plan for the day, like waking up and smoking, you gotta have your hit of TikTok.
I might add that other addictive behaviors also belong here. Drinking can start out as feeling fun. For example, the alcohol breaks down whatever anxiety you might have about being social so you can have fun. Not so fun is what can happen afterward or the next day when you have little to no energy because you’re so hung over. But then the fun can start again when you start drinking right, and this cycle of supposed fun becomes an addiction. This kind of fun sounds to me coming from a therapeutic perspective like distraction, like not wanting to or even fearing looking at yourself or your life honestly or procrastinating what may be a hard thing to do and doing an easy thing in instead, while also creating anxiety that will be waiting for you when your fun is over.
So what is real fun or true fun as Catherine calls it?
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Today I’m presenting the work of Catherine Davis, whom I’ve never met, but watched her Ted talk as well as an interview with her and was very impressed with how she talked about and defined fun. She says it has three components, flow, playfulness, and connection. She showed a Venn diagram, which is just circles in this case, and each facet – flow, playfulness and connection – are their own circle, but those three circles intersect in the middle. So there’s a circle where all three were present and that constitutes real fun. And while I’m gonna talk about these three components, I’m also going to talk about how depression and anxiety can make it harder to create these but not impossible.
First, let’s take playfulness. Another word for this might be lightheartedness, not taking things so seriously, being spontaneous. She makes the point that when the world is so full of war and hunger and climate change, it can seem uncaring or even self-centered or selfish to have fun.
It made me think of the characters of Winnie the Pooh. There’s Owl, Rabbit, Kanga, R00, Winnie, Piglet, Tigger, Christopher Robin and Eeyore I found an article about each character’s relatability. Which character do you think wins that relatability contest? It might surprise you. It’s not the fun loving Tigger or the adventuresome Roo. It’s Eeyore, the sad melancholy, the “if something bad happens, it’ll be to me” character . In this series- created almost a hundred years ago – the writers were trying to make each of these characters lovable with their strengths showing as well as their vulnerabilities.
So why am I bringing this up? Because even Eeyore is capable of having fun. He has a malformed tale but says things like I”I’s not much of a tale, but I’m sort of attached to it.” <Laugh>, What is Eeyore doing? Not to overanalyze poor Eeyore, but it seems as if he can see that his perspective is gloomy and depressing, but can also use a tiny bit of energy to care, to see things more positively, dare I say, to have fun.
Seeing the funny or the fun and things is more difficult obviously when you’re depressed, yes. But if you challenge yourself to learn something new, to stay curious about how to do something, you are building steps to lift your depression or to soothe your anxiety. If you know that being around someone’s a downer where being around someone else lifts your spirits, who are you going to choose to go to lunch with? Hopefully the second. Instead of doing the same things every day, which may become more of a trap for your depression rather than a way out, think of something that makes you smile. What if you had fun doing before? I can already hear someone listening to this and who’s depressed saying, “Well, it wouldn’t be fun now. Hell, I don’t even have the energy to try my answer to that.” Depression is hard to fight, especially severe depression.
Yet realizing that all you have to do is find enough energy to try one thing that could be fun. Be around someone who is fun to be around. See how you’re negating something’s value before you’ve ever tried it. If you don’t do those things, you will only stay depressed. So trying to look for what could possibly be playful in your world is so important.
The second facet of fun, according to Catherine. Price is connection – and that means connection with a real person, not a screen, not a task or a chore. Because realize you can feel connected without having fun. You and someone else might be grieving together or having an argument. That’s connection. But remember we’re talking about the three facets of fun. So she states that true fun involves another living being I almost said human being, but then I thought, I think you can have fun with a pet.
In fact, think about emotional support animals or the dogs that are regularly taken to see hospital patients. That’s connection as well.
Isolating can be a huge part of depression. You pull away, you withdraw either because you feel that you’re protecting yourself or even that you’re protecting others. Nobody needs to be around me now, but that’s a mistake, and if you do it regularly, feeling disconnected is very lonely and will wipe out any chance of fun. Think about the tale of Scrooge who spent his life isolating, not dancing, not attending social gatherings because he was too caught up in himself. He didn’t take advantage of the opportunities for connection there were in his life, and then fear finally leads him to do so. So what opportunities could you be passing over if you look for them, if you look for a way out of your sadness, you just may find it.
The recent movie, A Man Named Otto did just this or told this story. Otto was grieving his wife’s death and that’s all he could think about until a neighbor needed his help and he got involved with her and her family and began living again. I realize that’s a movie, but what opportunities for connection and fun could you be missing?
The last facet is flow. Now before you think, “Oh, that’s some weird word that’s all about meditation” and then dismiss it. Think about some time when you were totally engrossed in something you were doing. It could have been coaching your kid’s soccer game or building a piece of furniture or playing piano or guitar where you lost your sense of time. That’s flow. Sometimes when I write, I find that two hours has gone by and I’m not even aware of that time that’s flow. Now, yesterday I binged on Netflix and my whole afternoon was gone. That was also flow, sort of escapism as well ; <Laugh>, some of those ways to flow are perhaps more constructive, but flow is the third needed component for fun. Think about the last time you and a friend couldn’t stop laughing about something, whatever it is, that sense of timelessness for a few seconds or hours is flow.
There’s a last tip that Ms. Price suggests, and it’s on breaking the addictive power of your phone so you’re more available to create true fun. I probably like these so much because they’re very similar to the questions I ask my patients who are so enmeshed with someone else that I suggest they ask themselves these questions before they reach out trying to break that enmeshment. If I have a likely phone addict in my office, for example, what I’ll see is they have to turn it over, but they keep it close by.
They know that they’ll need to look at it if it’s face up. Apple watches or whatever kind of watch you use can also rob you of fun. If you get addicted to how many steps you took, for example, your life becomes about checking or having to check. I stopped wearing mine for just this reason. I felt as if I was becoming hooked on reaching those achievements instead of flowing in my life.
Anyway, back to the topic of breaking up with your phone. She suggests using the acronym WWW – they are questions to ask yourself before you even pick the silly thing up. Ask yourself first, “What for, or what’s the purpose of picking up your phone?” Are you avoiding something? Are you turning to someone else because you’re anxious and need calming down? Are you looking for answers that someone else is going to give you because you’ve convinced yourself you can’t do things for yourself?
So what for what’s the purpose of me scrolling? What’s the purpose of me texting? What’s the purpose of me going onto YouTube? Maybe it’s a very good purpose … but it helps to ask yourself what for.
The second question is, “Why right now?” wWhy in this moment are you picking up your phone rather than making another choice? I’ve heard from several Gen Zers that they pick up their phone the first thing in the morning to check their texts or their number of likes. Now I’ve been guilty of this as well, and I’m far from a Gen Zer. I’ve laughingly called it my “self-esteem” fix. But what’s the other possibility that you didn’t get any likes or there wasn’t a text? Does that mean you’re worth nothing, that your day off is off to an awful start? Or does it mean that you need to stop doing that looking externally for validation?
Yep, that’s what would be best.
And the third question is, “What else?” What else could I do or say or be or try or be curious about? What are your other choices? What is it that Einstein said? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity or something like that. All you’re doing is dredging a deeper tunnel for yourself to get out of. So do something different. Even it’s a tiny thing. Tiny is good, tiny is enough. So the three questions are, “What for? What’s the purpose? Why right now? And What else?” What else could you do other than picking up that phone and staring at that screen? You know, even fun comes in tiny packages and that can be in making those changes, those tiny changes that can be where you find your joy and your hope and a way out of depression.
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And now the voicemail of the week.
I told my husband of 40 years I was leaving him because he was narcissistic and abusive and a few days later he fell, broke his back was in the hospital for three months and diagnosed with precipitous cognitive decline. My adult children in their thirties want me to take care of him full-time. They’re angry at me for taking any time for myself and they don’t really wanna participate in it in a helpful way. I don’t know whether to leave. I don’t know whether to stay. I don’t know what to do.
This voicemail was difficult to listen to as you can hear just how trapped the listener sounds. Her story reminded me of several people I’ve worked with through the years that found themselves in similar situations that their spouses or partners’ lives had changed and not for the better. They’d just received a bad medical diagnosis or they’d lost their job. One person was in a coma, maybe they’d been arrested, whatever. But it had happened at a time when my patient had had plans to leave the relationship and they didn’t know what to do. So this woman says the same. I don’t know what to do.
There may be no good answers here. If her husband has treated his children the same way he’s treated her, then it’s understandable that they don’t want to take care of him either. Perhaps they are mad because she can lose her divorce and they feel like they can’t divorce their dad.
Perhaps one or more of them also share narcissistic traits and are thinking only of themselves. But it sounds as if she’s stuck feeling like she told him she’s had enough and then his life would have it. Her husband is now dependent on someone’s care and she can tell herself it’s her care. Yet he’s not created the kind of relationships with his family and certainly not with her. That would act as a reason for her to be or likely remain his caregiver. He’s not going to turn over a new leaf and not show narcissistic behaviors now, or at least that’s not likely to happen. So she feels stuck. I announced I was done and now it feels like if I act on those feelings, I’m betraying my husband, I’m abandoning him. My children will be angry with me. Does that mean she would lose connection with them?
I can’t tell from her words.
What I would wonder with her, if she’s been with someone narcissistic for 40 years, she’s likely someone who takes on way too much responsibility. Whether that’s appropriate or not, that’s a long time to spend when you’re constantly or often intermittently getting the message that you are not enough, you’re not supportive enough, understanding enough , that you fail often, that you’re wrong a lot. How has that affected her? What has she done with her anger, with her own grief?
But as I’ve discussed with many people, as you make a choice like this to stay to go think about the things you predict that will be hard about either choice and ask yourself, how would I handle those hard things? Neither choice is likely going to avoid hardship, so which can you cope with better? I looked up precipitous cognitive decline and seems that it’s a rapid decline.
Does she have the energy for that? Had she made plans to leave that she has then canceled. What she may need to do is sit down with a paper and pencil or whatever and actually write down what she thinks her steps could be or when she’s already taken ones that she needs to take. Perhaps talking with a lawyer about separating some of the financial issues.
But I’m certainly sorry that this listener finds herself in such a difficult place. Going to a therapist in your local area could be very helpful as you sort out the myriad of feelings you’re likely having and again, trying to organize the steps of what it would be like to stay, but probably stay in a different way or to go, you can ask them to help you organize and express those feelings so that whatever decision you make is one you can live with. No decision in either direction is going to be easy. Talk with your true friends about it and allow them to support you and good luck to you.
Thank you all for being here. I hope that this was helpful in you thinking about your own fun and how to create it. What I’d really love is for a few of you to leave some reviews on Apple Podcasts especially. It’s really kind of funny. I was telling someone the other day, it seemed like they just kept rolling in, the reviews kept rolling in until I reached a thousand, and then it’s like somebody says, “oOh, she’s got more than a thousand reviews. I won’t leave one <laugh>.” No SelfWork needs them in order for new people – people who might be considering listening in will have a sense of what self-work is now in 2023. So just take a couple of minutes to leave a rating or review and I’ll be so grateful. You can also join my private closed Facebook group. It’s at facebook.com/groups/ self-work. That’s facebook.com/groups/ self-work.
Again, I appreciate you taking the time to be here today with me. You can always email me at ask Dr. Margaret@Drmargaretrutherford.Com and let me know what you’d like for me to talk about. Or you can use the SpeakPipe function that is either on my firstname.lastname@example.org, which by the way is new and I think it’s really nice <laugh>. So I’d love for you to go look and there’s some new ways to subscribe as well. That, again, is dr margaret rutherford.com. So thank you for being here. Please take very good care of yourself, your loved ones, and your community. I’m Dr. Margaret and this has been SelfWork.
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