I recently listened to a podcast with Catherine Price who has written a book called “The power of fun – how to feel alive again.”
Catherine talks about fun as a feeling (rather than an activity) that is combination of playfulness, connection, and flow. Playfulness is light-hearted spirit and not caring too much about the outcome. Connection is having another living creature present. Flow is getting so wrapped up in what you are doing that you lose track of time.
She explains to us what true fun is – moments when you feel joyfully alive, as opposed to fake fun that is something addictive and hard to resist but ends up leaving us dissatisfied. True fun is gratifying and stays with us long after the experience. It boosts our resilience and enables us to weather future challenges. In this way, true fun must have a positive effect on our nervous system and there is science emerging to back up those claims according to Catherine. We are seeing more written about the importance of play for emotional health and problem solving among other benefits.
You can listen to a podcast with Catherine discussing the nuances of fun on iheart radio here:
I must admit that much of the time that I spend training horses falls more into the satisfactory category where I am working towards a goal. I would not class it as true fun, but something more in the middle, where I’m trying to build or achieve an outcome. This is where most of our life is spent – in the middle zone – doing things because they are necessary and part of a future plan.
On the days when I want to abandon any structure, forget about outcomes and just play, I spend the time doing liberty with the horses. Sometimes they lead, sometimes I lead. Liberty play gives me a sense of being joyfully alive and in the moment without any requirement of success. The horse can leave anytime, which removes your element of control. It is an activity where we can ‘let go’ of all the expectations that have been placed on us by trainers and others who judge what we are doing.
I have a student that now lives far from me and I had the opportunity to catch up with her and her lovely horse. It has been months since I have seen them. Previously her horse was unable to focus or move with relaxation because he was constantly anxious. We had worked sometimes inhand to ease the anxiety of the horse. My student has now taken this a step further and added frequent liberty sessions with him. I was astounded at the difference when I saw them recently. Her horse now moves around freely, totally relaxed, without bolting at the slightest noise or shadow. He follows her happily around the arena without treats. This demonstrates the power of liberty. The horse is able to feel a sense of safety and empowerment. It is life-changing for that horse. His ability to tolerate the environment and what is being asked of him has changed for the better. He is now in a learning state and has the capability to self-regulate. My student was also having a fun experience with him, letting go of her anxiety about his anxiety. It was truly inspiring!
As Catherine Price reminds us, our lives are what we pay attention to. What do you want to pay attention to?
How about fun?
Joyfully alive connections, losing ourselves in the flow and playing with light-heartedness. That’s where we can create positive emotional well-being for building resilience.