Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 649

6 25 MAY 2023 News&Views “Fun,” says Ben Aitken, “is a funny thing.” And he should know – in late 2021, the “increasingly flat and decreasingly zen” writer decided to spend the next year dedicating himself to the pursuit of fun in all its forms, fromfishing to flying, lawn bowls to line dancing, and all points in between. “A couple of things happened,” explains Ben, of the inspiration behind his quest. “I did one of those ridiculous online health and personality tests that’s supposed tomeasure how you’re doing at life. And I got 2.7 out of 10. Then I got on amachine at the gym that gaveme a biological age of 54. I’m37! So then I thought I’d pursue fun, and see what happened…” What followed was a year of extremes that took the Londoner into the sky, flying loops in a biplane, and out to sea, on a Baltic cruise – but also to afternoon bingo and his local community garden. Key to his mission, says Ben, was the theory that fun is amore attainable goal than happiness. “My MY YEAR OF FUN Author Ben Aitken devoted 12months of his life to having as good a time as possible. But did it make himhappier? Paul Kirkley finds out o his cares at an ‘ecstatic dancing’ session, and found an unlikely new vocation as a cheerleader. He also found fun in simple pleasures – like sitting on his favourite bench on Primrose Hill, north London (“it’s great for watching the world go by, like a sort of verymellowNetflix drama”) – and in doing voluntary work at a community library. “What’s fun about volunteering? The pseudoscientific answer is that it releases a chemical called oxytocin – aka the cuddle hormone – that rewards us for doing nice things. It makes us feel good about ourselves.” ‘Fun is vague – it’s slippery, fickle and fragile. But it creates space that helps to relieve stress’ JOYFUL JAPES Ben tries rollerblading in Hyde Park (above); and snowboarding in the Alps with his cousins (above right) In focus hunch was that fun is easier to target. Fun is still vague – it’s slippery and fickle and fragile. But it’s something you can go after – you can learn Swedish or bakemu ns. It feels easier to pursue, and obtain. And it creates a space that helps to relieve stress.” Not everything in Ben’s ‘funathon’ – now chronicled in a funny, uplifting new book, Here Comes the Fun – lived up to the billing. He “still has nightmares” about his flying experience, and remains ba ed by the craze for cold water swimming. “I gave it a good go,” he insists. “But I just don’t see what people are getting out of it. “One of the things I’ve learned about fun is that it’s important to knowwhen to stop. If it’s not working after the second or third time, get out of that pond. There’s also a relationship between fun and competence,” he adds – hence his failure to find the joy in everything from cryptic crosswords to downhill skiing. But there were plenty of activities that did deliver fun. He loved cookery classes, shook