How taking a break becomes fun

Why do we make it so hard for ourselves to enjoy time off?

Tina Hellensteiner
2 min readDec 25, 2021


I bet you’ve been there, done that: mindlessly scrolling through social media or Netflix, not really deciding on anything, just passing time. Basically not doing anything. And also, not feeling good about yourself while you’re doing it. But it feels like way too much effort to do anything else.

I’ve definitely been there.

Partly, because isn’t that what we’re supposed to do on breaks? Haven’t you heard? Don’t do too much, just relax, recharge your batteries.

At first, it seems to make a whole lot of sense. We are wired to experience effort as difficult and somehow costly. So our brains try hard to avoid it - you probably remeber that from one of the more interesting biology classes. And the strategy does pay off: It guarantees our survival.

But it doesn’t guarantee fun. Humans are actually way happier, if they do something that requires effort. But: It has to be a choice. And now that you know the secret, why not choose to do something that requires some effort?

A bit of discomfort is highly pleasurable, as long as we willingly engage with it.

If we put effort into something, the outcome feels rewarding. We all know lots of examples were this is true for us.

I for example can vividly remember how great I felt after my last hike. Trudging through the snow in the Austrian Alps, sweating and freezing at the same time, watching my very noisy, labored breath rising in clouds of steam. And then I’m there, looking down from the mountain… feeling intensly happy.

It doesn’t have to be a hike through the alps to feel rewarding. Start with little things like getting up and taking a walk around the block even though you didn’t plan on getting out of your comfy PJs. Do part of a puzzle. Cook a simple, but fresh meal. Help a friend out. The options are limitless.

Still no idea how or what you want to do?

An easy way to experience the upside of effort is this: Try or learn something new. And really just do it for the fun of it.
It totally pays off on the happiness scale.

So if you don’t have plans for Christmas (or really any upcoming) break yet and are thinking “Fun, yes, please!”:

Let’s try or learn something new.

Just for the fun of it. It will be effort, challenging and therefore rewarding, pleasurable and FUN.

If you want to find out more, Tom Vanderbilt wrote a whole book about why learning something new is fun. It’s because…

“It’s about small acts of reinvention, at any age, that can make life seem magical.”

Have a magical break!

Have fun enjoying your life — which sometimes means putting in some effort.



Tina Hellensteiner

Inspired creator, but for now writing over at LinkedIn.