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The Science of FOMO and YOLO

I recently went to the French Laundry to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Those that are connoisseurs of gastronomy are aware that the French Laundry is one of the most exciting culinary experience one can have. Nonetheless, I watched in amazement as many of the tables around me spent a majority of their time one their smartphones.

Before I throw stones at a glass house, let me admit I am one of those people who is persistently switching between my different social media accounts to get that thrill of superficial acknowledgment, or reciprocating in kind by admiring the adventures of my friends through the use of my thumbs.

The Science of FOMO and YOLO

But what happens when never missing an act on the theater of life becomes more important than life itself? A subtle reminder of this happens on any busy metropolitan street, as one can observe the masses walking seemingly aimless of their immediate presence, digitally immersed in the details of someone else’s life. In fact, considering almost everybody uses their smartphone while driving, almost all the time, it would seem many of us are less anxious about dying than missing out on someone else living.

Fear of missing out, or FOMO for short, refers to the persistent worry that others are having rewarding experiences for which we are not included. The origin of the acronym is credited to Patrick McGinnis who used it in his Harbus article Social Theory at HBS: McGinnis’ Two FOs. In our world of constant accessibility of information — through social media and other channels — we are seemingly bombarded with prospection that others are having more fun than we are. The reality, however, is that there are practical restrictions preventing any of us from doing it all. To think otherwise is folly.

Despite this reality, we still want to fool ourselves into believing we live in a world of infinitely obtainable options. If only you are let in on “the secret” the world is full of abundance for the taking. We are hijacking the beauty of situational intimacy for the cheap thrill of vicarious displacement. The desire to be continuously connected with others and see what they are doing is a feature of FOMO. A report by J. Walter Thompson (JWT) showed that Millennials are the most affected by this phenomenon (JWT, 2011). However, Generation Y is feared to be affected at increasing rates, too. With the help of social media, FOMO is pervasive and has the ability to negatively impact us all.

So why does FOMO exist and is there any way for those that suffer from it, to mitigate its effects?

Satisfying Our Desires

The motivation for many behaviors can be explored by tracing them back to our innate needs. Experts suggest that the link between FOMO and psychological needs is quite direct. Experimental psychologist Dr. Andrew Przybylski of the University of Essex in the UK argues that when our basic needs are not satisfied, we are more likely to gravitate towards social media. Digital engagement brings superficial satisfaction regarding some of these needs. For instance, through social media we can feel more in touch and connected with others, as such our subjective social competence increases, and we get more opportunities for perceived action (Przybylski et al., 2013).

However, science is exposing several negative aspects of continuous online engagement. For example, some people engage with social sites to avoid negative emotions and get away from the dissatisfactions of everyday relationships (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). When this is true, the state of FOMO can act as a habit loop accelerant between the individual’s need to mitigate negative emotional states and excessive social media engagement (Riordan et al., 2015). A study by Przybylski and his colleagues showed that people who are low on autonomy, competence and relatedness (the three basic needs according to the self-determination theory) tend to report higher levels of FOMO (Przybylski et al., 2013).

One hypothesis is those suffering from FOMO might be desperately trying to restore their inner psychological balance. However, any perception of balance is generally short-lived and instead a vicious cycle of comparison and loss of authenticity begins to take hold. Other needs that people, particularly adolescents, might be trying to gratify when excessively relying on social networking sites include the need for popularity and a sense of belonging, A study published last year in the journal Computers in Human Behavior supported this assertion. Their findings suggest adolescents with a stronger need for popularity and affiliation exhibited a higher sense of FOMO and fueled it by using Facebook more intensely (Beyens, Frison, & Eggermont, 2016).

The Dangers of FOMO

Psychologists have anecdotally suggested for some time that those that significantly suffer from FOMO degrade their well-being and happiness over time, and now there is hard science to support this assertion. In one of their studies, Przybylski and his team showed that FOMO is linked to lower mood and life satisfaction (Przybylski et al., 2013).  People who have been overly enchanted by social media are often suffering from a feeling that they have not made good choices. FOMO can hit you from two sides in this regard. On one side, an internal yearning to be connected and elevate your life to that of others on your feed; on the other, indignation and/or envy about the things you might be missing out on and/or that others seem to have. These emotions left unchecked can spiral.

Moreover, a recent study from the University of Otago in New Zealand showed that in college students, FOMO is a factor that can drive this group to riskier behaviors, including alcohol (ab)use. For instance, compared to students who do not worry about “missing out”, those who do are significantly more likely to engage in impulsive acts while drinking that they later regret (Riordan et al., 2015). However, to perhaps justify FOMO another expression has surfaced to justify the negative effects of FOMO. YOLO or ‘you only live once’ is often used to explain the wild things that go on in our lives that when examined ex post facto look like poor decisions.

YOLO — Friend or Foe?

Research shows that FOMO is somewhat linked to a desire for more social engagement and the pursuit of activities that satisfy innate needs. The approach taken by many affected by FOMO is based on an inherent need for extrinsic rewards, where gratification is sought somewhere from the outside oneself (e.g. confirmation by others), while neglecting methods for more sustainable intrinsic motivators. To solve some of the mysteries of FOMO, we might need to look where one can gain positive social experiences, finding happiness from within (instead of experientially).

While YOLO could be frowned upon by those who consider themselves ‘mature and responsible’, the concept does have potential psychological merit. It feels somewhat rebellious. It also emphasizes living in the Present and doing your best to have fun with what life presents you. YOLO brings that allure of authenticity back and challenges you to be you — regardless of the consequences. Often YOLO experiences encourage one to wander from the safety and try something novel. If the YOLO experience is not coerced, the locus of control is moved internally. Moreover, if a YOLO attitude is paired with a dose of prudence it can be expansive, beginning with replacing mindless activity on Facebook and Twitter and for those lucky enough leading to peak experiences.

When we try something new, the almost universal fear of failing is there looming.  Studies show that we are likely more anxious about an unknown outcome than we are about a negative one that is known to us (Arntz & Hopmans, 1998). Yet, when we can get the courage to face the unknown, there is an opportunity for personal growth. An experiment by Arnoud Arntz and Miranda Hopmans of the University of Maastricht, Netherlands, showed that the pain of a new experience (even if it is uncomfortable) is likely to bring us less subjective pain than that of a known negative experience.

To get out of the grips of FOMO completely, we may need to upgrade YOLO and take our adventures to another level. YOLO is a lot about the pleasures of the moment. But science (ever since Aristotle) shows us that to get a sense of genuine purpose and meaning, we need to nurture personal development and feel as though we are living our fullest potential (Huta & Waterman, 2014). YOLO is not just about hedonism, it is great when we can find positive (offline) experiences, but it can be even more positive if these new experiences are seen as worthwhile. New experiences are the best when we feel that we are learning, developing and/or growing.

YOLO Might Be Good for the Soul and Mind

Research from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School shows that unique experiences have the power to activate a part of our brain called the amygdala, which is the part of our brain that helps us with learning (Weierich et al., 2010). When we completely immerse ourselves in something new, other parts of our brain can momentarily become inactive. When this happens the novelty of the experience can complete absorb us and silence our inner critic and the quiet mental space of contentment found in these moments is great way to combat the noisy world of FOMO.

Sources & further reading:

Arntz, A., & Hopmans, M. (1998). Underpredicted pain disrupts more than correctly predicted pain, but does not hurt more. Behaviour Research And Therapy, 36(12), 1121-1129. doi:10.1016/S0005-7967(98)00085-0

Beyens, I., Frison, E.  & Eggermont, S. (2016). “I don’t want to miss a thing”: Adolescents’ fear of missing out and its relationship to adolescents’ social needs, Facebook use, and Facebook related stress. Computers in Human Behavior, 641-8. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.05.083

Ellison, N., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends”: Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4),1143-1168.

Huta, V., & Waterman, A. (2014). Eudaimonia and Its Distinction from Hedonia: Developing a Classification and Terminology for Understanding Conceptual and Operational Definitions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15(6), 1425-1456.

JWT (2011). Fear of missing out (FOMO). Retrieved from https://www.jwt.com/worldwide/news/fomojwtexploresfearofmissingoutphenomenon

Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 291841-1848. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.02.014

Riordan, B. C., Flett, J. A. M., Hunter, J. A., Scarf, D. and Conner, T. S. (2015). Fear of missing Out (FoMO): the relationship between FoMO, alcohol use, and alcohol-related consequences in college students. Annals of Neuroscience and Psychology, 2:7.

Weierich, M. R., Wright, C. I., Negreira, A., Dickerson, B. C., & Barrett, L. F. (2010). Novelty as a Dimension in the Affective Brain. NeuroImage, 49(3), 2871.

What is Fun Anyway?

What is Fun? The Oxford English Dictionary (O.E.D) defines fun as “amusement, especially lively or playful.” As an adjective, the word is described as “amusing, entertaining, enjoyable.” “For fun” or “for the fun of it” means “not for a serious purpose.”

What is Fun?

The standard definition of fun suggests some overlap with the concept of play. In fact, these two words are often mentioned together (e.g. fun and games). However, play often appears to be the overarching term, where fun is more specific to experiencing enjoyment. For example, when defining play, play researcher Scott Eberle, Ph.D., writes that fun is one of the basic elements of play. He also observes that we play because the act of play promises fun. If there were no fun in play, we would likely not play (Eberle, 2014). This suggests a relationship between the concepts of fun and play, a possible causality perhaps: fun is a natural byproduct of play — fun is intrinsic to play. Eberle also argues that although there are many ways to develop knowledge, self-assurance and vigor, none of them are as fun as play.

Another academic concept that is used when discussing fun is “flow.” When Gayle Privette of the University of West Florida attempted to distinguish between peak experience, peak performance and flow, she defined peak experience as mystic and transpersonal, peak performance as transactive and flow as having fun (Privette, 1983).

Casual and Academic References to Fun

Definitions of fun are generally discussed as a result of an act and/or engaging in activity. Some authors focus on the fun side of things/activities and talk about the hedonic aspects of certain activities. As such, in academic writing, fun is often equated with hedonism. For instance, Barry Babin, William Darden, and Mitch Griffin (1994) took the hedonistic value of shopping (e.g. shopping for fun) and contrasted it with shopping’s utilitarian value, which is more concerned with usefulness and task completion. Utilitarian shopping can almost be regarded as work. Shopping for fun, on the other hand, is personal, subjective to the shopper and often entails playfulness. The participant values the experience itself because the endeavor is entertaining. In short, many activities can be analyzed for their ability to induce fun — emphasizing entertainment and enjoyment of the process rather than its practical value.

When activity is done for fun, it often involves increased arousal, perceived freedom, fantasy fulfillment and escapism (Hirscham, 1983). The saying “time flies when you’re having fun” indicates that the concept is also connected with our perceptions of temporality and can influence the subjective component of time. This popular anecdote is a cultural artifact that further alludes that flow and fun are related social constructs.

People sometimes also talk about “short-term fun” and contrast it with “long-term gains,” suggesting that fun could obliterate the lasting success of an individual. Fun and play often get negative press, especially when adults engage in fun activities excessively. It sometimes gets implied that people’s efficiency and productivity could decline if they overtly prioritized fun. Modern research, however, does not support that negative proposition of fun (e.g. R. Fluegge-Woolf, 2014).

Can Fun Be Universally Defined?

Although fun is often connected with play, few would argue play is the only time we have fun. For instance, for many, work can be fun as well. A task like gardening can be perceived as monotonous to one person while being perceived as fun by another. But, does work cease to be work if we have fun? Actually, fun in the workplace is increasingly being researched. Researchers are exploring strategies that help make our work lives more fun. For instance, there are evolving applications of gamification. Gamifying work involves creating strategic tactics in an attempt to make arduous tasks more fun. New studies have confirmed that a fun work environment creates more productive and creative employees, therefore showing that both parts of the “work hard, play hard” phrase can actually coexist (R. Fluegge-Woolf, 2014).

Your perception of whether something is fun depends on your mindset, ability and skills, the environment as well as those around you (your relationships). For example, taking public transportation can be a tedious, mind-numbing activity. If you’re headed to a concert with a group of friends, though, it can be the ride of a lifetime: spending time together, chatting while excitedly anticipating the show — in laymen terms, “a ton of fun.”

What is clear is that fun is a subjective construct. What seems fun to one person might be perceived differently by somebody else. Therefore, perhaps the most relevant question is: How do you define fun? What is fun to you?

Sources & further reading:

Babin, B. J., Darden, W. R., & Griffin, M. (1994). Work and/or Fun: Measuring Hedonic and Utilitarian Shopping Value. Journal of Consumer Research, (4). 644-656.

Eberle, S. G. (2014). The Elements of Play: Toward a Philosophy and a Definition of Play. American Journal of Play, 6(2), 214-233.

Hirschman, E. (1983). Predictors of self-projection, fantasy fulfillment, and escapism. Journal of Social Psychology, 120(1), 63-76. doi:10.1080/00224545.1983.9712011

Privette, G. (1983). Peak experience, peak performance, and flow: A comparative analysis of positive human experiences. Journal of Personality And Social Psychology, 45(6), 1361-1368. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.45.6.1361

Fluegge-Woolf, E. (2014). Play hard, work hard: Fun at work and job performance. Management Research Review, (8), 682. doi:10.1108/MRR-11-2012-0252

Kids Aren’t Fun and What to Do About It

OK, to all you non-parents out there … I am going to go out on a limb here and share a secret held by us on the other side — misery loves company, so when one of us tells you, “My children are the best thing that has ever happened to me,” or some similar thinly veiled ploy to have you come join us in Suckville — don’t you believe it! The reality is we likely miss you dearly, yet there is no reasonable escape from the trap of our new reality, and our only hope is to trick you to come along. Like someone drowning — clinging on for dear life — we are ready to take you down with us. Therefore, it should be no surprise that a recent study out of the Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis by Leslie Ashburn-Nardo suggests child-free adults consistently face moral outrage by their childbearing counterparts. The hard truth is, many of us dream about our prior lives sans kids. Often kids aren’t fun and many of us long for pieces from our previous autonomous lives.

Before you have a kid, everyone tells you, "It's the best thing you'll ever do." And as soon as you get the baby back from the hospital, those same people are like, "Don't worry, it gets better."

Joking aside, I love my kids. There are moments when it is really fun being a parent.  My kids bring me occasional joy; they most certainly give my life a sense of meaning and purpose that was not there before. Like many other parents, I do my best to juggle priorities and sacrifice my own needs for theirs. Being a psychology geek, I truly enjoy watching them develop and thrive. Parenthood gives me a sense of accomplishment; there is no question I love my kids. Surely, I must be happier with two little bundles of joy in my life. Right? Right?!?

The Parenting Happiness Gap

Not according to science; research studies from different parts of the developed world have been suggesting for some time now that people with kids are less happy than their non-parent counterparts. So if you have been struggling with the self-actualization that your new life parenting is not as fun as you thought it would be … don’t stress, you are in good company. Those who have read Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness or All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior are probably already familiar with some of the previous science.  Important to note, this does not mean that parents are (necessarily) unhappy. It just verifies that there is a happiness gap between the two groups. To put it more bluntly, when your ex-drinking buddy tells you, “My kids make me so happy,” they’re probably full of shit. This is especially true here in the United States. More than other countries in the world, there appears to be a strong link between parenthood and lower emotional well-being in the United States.

I’m not trying to be a polemicist. As I previously suggested, there is an abundance of research to support this claim (see Glass, Simon, & Andersson, 2016 for a comprehensive list of studies). For example, research published in 2005 in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior suggests that having children is associated with decreased mental health. This work also suggests parents reporting significantly higher levels of depression than their childfree counterparts.

There is a gender bias to these statistics due to hormonal issues associated with postpartum phenomena. However, these effects are observed in both men and women (Evenson & Simon, 2005). Cohabiting with dependent children is a period of parenthood that has been associated with the highest degree of stress levels (this goes for both genders); of this group, parents with minor children are the ones who usually experience the highest time and energy demands (Evenson & Simon, 2005).

“Don’t Worry, it Gets Better” Might Be a Lie, Too

According to Ranae Evenson of Vanderbilt University and Robin Simon of Florida State University, even empty-nesters have trouble reaching the levels of happiness experienced by non-parents. This is unfortunate interesting since many people believe that once their children are all grown, parenthood is more enjoyable. A meta-analytic review published in the Journal of Marriage and Family suggests that, after having children, couples actually report being less satisfied with their marital relationship compared with non-parents (Twenge, Campbell, & Foster, 2003). Twenge, Campbell and Foster conclude that lower marital satisfaction might be due to new role conflicts from the change in family dynamics, as well as the increased autonomy that comes with the empty nest. In other words, you wake up from Suckville and realize you still want to go to Burning Man, only to discover your partner would now rather watch “The Good Wife” reruns.

In a nutshell, science shows us (once again) what we already know but for some reason decided to kid ourselves about: being a parent is hard fucking work. While fantasizing about the birth of a child, we usually look forward to personal gratification, meaning and purpose, but these positive emotions are fleeting and ultimately get eclipsed by the vast variety of stressors associated with childcare. These underestimated stressors can often lead to a poorer sense of well-being (Umberson & Gove, 1998).

United States + Kids = Suck

From all over the globe, those who romanticize parenthood still acknowledge the stressors connected with parenting, but it seems like parenting is especially hard here in the United States. I have dug into the research, and stress theory has failed to explain why American parents feel worse than their counterparts in other countries (Glass, Simon, & Andersson, 2016). Many experts agree that the reason American parents report less happiness than parents in other countries is a lack of parenting support (when compared to collectivist cultures) and the lack of support offered by governmental programs (e.g. family leave, significant tax breaks, etc.). While in some developed countries, childbearing brings a number of social and financial benefits — well, let’s face it, the United States simply fails miserably here.

A group of researchers looked into resources provided to parents in different countries and examined whether the happiness gap between parents and non-parents was smaller in countries that provided more family assistance. They confirmed that the (distal) source of parenting stress generally originated in the respective countries’ social, economic and policy constraints. They referred to this as the macro-level cause for parental negative emotions. Their analysis showed that out of 22 OECD countries, the greatest happiness gap between parents and non-parents was experienced in the United States.

In fact, us American parents report being 12 percent less happy than those without children. In contrast, countries that provided more resources and social support for parents (paid work leave, work flexibility, subsidized childcare) generally had a smaller disparity in happiness between parents and non-parents. Truth be told, in some countries (e.g. Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Russia), parents actually reported being as happy (even slightly happier sometimes) as their non-parent counterparts (Glass, Simon, & Andersson, 2016).

Modern Family

Another factor is parenting does not have the social value and esteem attached to it that it did 50 years ago. We can now decide for ourselves when to have children. That is why some social scientists argue that when we compare people with children to non-parents, we are in fact comparing two groups of people who made different choices and have different attributes and preferences. Admittedly, the science here is as messy. It might, therefore, be more relevant to compare people’s happiness before and after they have had kids.

Professor Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics and his team are currently working on the book The Origins of Happiness, which is looking at the determinants of well-being in four countries: the United States, Germany, Australia and the U.K. They presented some of their findings at the Wellbeing Conference 2016 which was held last December and was organized by the OECD and the London School of Economics (LSE). After four years of following new parents, their preliminary findings reaffirm that parenthood does not improve subjective well-being in the long run. The positive effects only last for the first 12 months after the baby is born. Unfortunately, after that, the well-being score of parents starts to decline.

Is Being a Happy Parent Possible?

OK, so parenting can suck … but here we are … and we love our kids … so WTF should we do? The good news is parenthood does offer many opportunities for some of the most worthwhile moments of your life. We lose a lot of autonomy as parents, but we can choose to bring more joy into our lives through our children. A study led by Katherine Nelson, a psychologist from the University of California, Riverside, shows us again what we already intuitively know — that the relationship between parenthood and well-being is very complex. It is influenced by so many factors, including: parenting style, emotional bonds between the parents, the child’s temperament and age…

When evaluating parental happiness, we should look at the whole context; it is important to observe why and how we, as parents, become more or less happy. If we have “bought in,” we can experience positive emotions through our enhanced social roles (Nelson, Kushlev, & Lyubomirsky, 2014).

Moreover, to counter the somewhat negative research on parenthood, Nelson and her colleagues demonstrated (in three studies) that parents (especially fathers — go dads!) can be happier and experience more meaning in life compared to non-parents (Nelson, Kushlev, English, Dunn & Lyubomirsky, 2013). So, being a happy parent is in the cards, if you are ready to work.

Let’s explore how:

    1. Allow Time for Unstructured Play

Play is a source of happiness for kids, as well as adults. It is baffling to me that kids seem like they’re continually being deprived of free play. We’ve become too dystopian. Some of the silliest fights I have with my wife are about my kids going outside because they might get dirty. “Yeah, no shit, that is part of the fun of going outside.”

Statistics show American children (as well as children in other developed nations) have less and less free time to engage in free play activities. Our kids’ lives are increasingly highly structured and controlled. There are reasons for this, sure, but I want you to think about some of your favorite childhood memories for a moment … they probably involve at least some images of unstructured play, shenanigans with friends, moments of a carefree existence … moments when you were not directed, because you were a kid!

How does this make me happier? If we are always helicoptering over our kids (more on that later), we have less autonomy. Autonomy makes us happy. Furthermore, Professor Peter Gray argues that the decline of free play importantly contributes to an increase in different psychopathologies among young people, including: anxiety, depression, narcissism and difficulty focusing (Gray, 2011). In his writing, Gray (2014) suggests that children need to be allowed time to play freely, with other children, and away from adults. So when we eliminate the autonomy out of our lives, and the lives of our children, we create a perpetual death spiral. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but your parenting style might be part of the problem.

We need to give children some space to express their personality, learn, develop their skills and build social interactions. In his book, Free to Learn, Gray further explores these concepts and looks for ways to improve children’s happiness and the potential to learn.

The first rule of being happy (and raising a happy person) appears to be giving your kid some space. Let them play freely and get absorbed in some self-directed activity that has not been organized for them. It is good to have fun with your kids, but if one or both of you are not having fun anymore, it is counterproductive. Letting your kid free play also helps you recharge and have more fun during the time you do share experiences.

    1. Don’t Make Play Your Duty

When you do play with your kids, avoid engaging in it as a sense of obligation. Play should be fun for everyone involved. Otherwise, it is not play. Hey … I get it, singing “Frozen” karaoke for the nth time isn’t your idea of fun.

Our interests, energy, humor are different than our children … you don’t need a Ph.D. behind your name to observe that. This makes it difficult to bridge the age gap in parent-child play, but you can get creative if you try. Gray (2014) suggests finding ways that fit the abilities and interests of the parent and the child. This strategy is going to be specific to your family. For me, I have gotten my 5-year-old into rock climbing and running. Do what works for yours.

Don’t Make Play Your Duty
    1. Consider the Implications of Helicopter Parenting on Well-Being

Terri LeMoyne and Tom Buchanan of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga explored the style of “helicopter parenting” on a sample of college students. They found that helicopter parenting can have a negative effect on children; lowering their levels of well-being and making them feel more negative about themselves. Children of helicopter parents are also more likely to take medications for anxiety and/or depression (LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011). Ill effects of over-parenting were also shown in other studies. For instance, one led by Chris Segrin of the University of Arizona, Tucson, highlighted that helicopter parenting can lead to child having difficulty in relating to others (Segrin et al., 2014). Science shows us that although a caring and genuine relationship is essential for our children’s well-being, they (and we) will probably be happier if we give them less direction. Again, make sure your parenting style is not the culprit. When the time is right to play with your kids, let them guide you and generally only intervene for reasons of safety and security.

    1. Don’t Take Life Too Seriously, No One Gets Out Alive Anyways

If you constantly strive to be a flawless parent, then my guess is you are probably not having much fun anyway. Having parental standards is important, but try your best not to turn this into perfectionism. There are rewards for being a flexible parent. Studies show that authoritarian parents who are high on demands and low on responsiveness tend to have children who have low self-esteem and are overly worried about making mistakes (Hibbard & Walton, 2014). Nicholas Affrunti and Janet Woodruff-Borden from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Louisville also suggest that parental perfectionism and over-control can be risk factors for the development of child anxiety (Affrunti & Woodruff-Borden, 2015). So embrace your silly side.

Embrace your silly side

Deploy a little healthy code-switching and become a kid yourself during play. The practice can be healthy for all involved. There is inherent fun in getting silly and laughing with someone. You both release oxytocin, which in turn creates strong bonds with each other, which in turn makes you feel good — plus a host of other benefits that contribute to the well-being of both parent and child.

    1. Create Fun Rituals

This is one I have borrowed from my best friend Micah and his family. I am trying to get better at this one, but it the spirit of authenticity I must admit I have failed a bit here. The recognition that routine “family time” is important for family relations and well-being is well-established. Weekends play an important and beneficial role in the lives of many families in this regard — they give us more time to do things together. Rosalina Pisco Costa, a sociologist working at the University of Évora in Portugal, writes about the creation of “special time and space” and family rituals. Family rituals can center around different things (celebrations, greetings, trips) and involve the stages of anticipation, experience as well as conclusion (Costa, 2014). Costa also cites the work of Imber-Black and Roberts (1998) who suggested that “rituals give us places to be playful, to explore the meaning of our lives, and to rework and rebuild family relationship” (p.4). Fun rituals are something we can consider including in our family life to experience the emotional benefits they bring. Circling back to Micah and his family, they invested in a boat knowing that the significant cost would ensure that maritime activities, such as weekly sleepovers on the new boat, would become the norm and create endearing memories for all.

Create fun family rituals

I am not suggesting you go out and buy a boat. I am suggesting you make family time a habit by engaging in a family ritual the whole family enjoys.

    1. Invest in Experience, not Things

I feel like this has been covered well recently by others (see: Buy Experiences, Not Things or The Science Behind Why You Should Spend Money on Family Holidays Instead of Toys) and is almost a cliché topic now, but it is still worth a mention. Investing in experience over things builds memories that all parties can relish. Furthermore, since you likely have some control of your family’s resources, choosing an experience over buying another toy interjects some autonomy back in your life. We know the benefits from experience last longer than the gratification derived from most tangible things. Moreover, you don’t have to succumb to the pressure of going to a child-centered destination like Disneyland for your family vacation. What is an experience that would create an enjoyable, lasting memory for all involved? If you plan your vacations accordingly, you can mitigate the ill-conceived adage: children make a family, but destroy the marriage. Pick a location where the tips from 1-5 (above) are baked in. For instance, you could choose an all-inclusive resort that has a kid’s club so there are opportunities for family fun, as well as intimate time with your partner while your kid is at play. Fun for all!

The Days Are Long, But The Years Are Short

The Days Are Long, But The Years Are Short

If you are lucky enough to find unwavering fun in being a parent … I am happy to hear that unicorns exist … something for me to strive for. For the rest of us, we tell our friends, “Don’t worry, it gets better,” because it can … especially if we are able to parent mindfully. Life is about moments, and as parents we have committed to a lot of those moments being with our kids. Either by choice or lack of family planning, these moments are not just ours anymore; however, we still hold a few cards and we can influence our environment and our family time to maximize our ability to have fun and be happy (along with our kids).

Parenthood can easily become a shitshow at times, but we have more control over that than we think. The days are long, but the years are short — we might as well stack the deck in our favor, so in our final days we have a lifetime of fun memories and we can relish in a family life lived happily.

Sources & further reading:

Ackerly, R. (2012). Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity, and Creativity in Children. Lyons Press.

Affrunti, N. W., & Woodruff-Borden, J. (2015). Parental Perfectionism and Overcontrol: Examining Mechanisms in the Development of Child Anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, (3), 517. doi:10.1007/s10802-014-9914-5

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