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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #195 - Dr. Mike Rucker

Dr. Mike Rucker is an organizational psychologist and charter member of the International Positive Psychology Association whose work has been published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management and Nutrition Research. His ideas about fun and health have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Fast Company, The Telegraph, Psychology Today, Forbes, Vox, Thrive Global, mindbodygreen, and more. Named one of ten digital changemakers by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, he currently serves as a senior leader at Active Wellness. Learn more at MichaelRucker.com.



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The Fun Habit: How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life

15:30 - how Mike came to write the book

19:00 - the state of happiness

21:20 - unhappiness from comparison

23:00 - are some people naturally happy?

26:00 - having a joyful inner spirit

27:25 - understanding trauma

28:30 - how does happiness differ from fun

30:00 - Autonomy over your time 

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35:10 - passive activities

38:30 - the pursuit of fun; dopamine

41:35 - play models; how to do a play audit

PLAY Model — A Simple Approach to Having More Fun

47:30 - Time Use Studies

52:30 - being productive by taking down time

56:50 - activity bundling

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1:03:35 - can People find time autonomy with a regular 9 to 5?

1:06:05 - the most entertaining activities

1:10:30 - the concept of awe & wonder

1:13:15 - creating unique experiences

1:18:00 - the role of gratitude

1:25:50 - staying in the moment vs. documenting your experiences

1:29:30 - no phone experiences

Time Hop

My Social Book

1:34:10 - Childless People vs. child-centric parents

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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #38 - Connie Zack
The Science Of Sauna: Heat Shock Proteins, Heart Health, Chronic Pain, Detox, Weight Loss, Immunity, Traditional Vs. Infrared, And More!

1:42:30 - finding purpose and meaning in life

1:49:05 - momento Mori

1:53:40 - the fear of death

1:56:00 - activism & community; kindness & fun


Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I'm about to have. It is about a topic that I am personally, well, that really colors the experience of my life and I think I'm sort of obsessed with it and I wasn't aware of any work or book or person who was actually doing due diligence and looking at the science of it. So that is the topic of fun. It's actually pretty funny because growing up in my family, I'm literally like the fun person. I really value fun and enjoying and relishing all of the moments in my life and my family always says all the time that if I wasn't in the family wouldn't have any fun. I think it's something that's really important but what I think is also more important is that people, I think, often write off fun as something that we shouldn't necessarily take seriously. Maybe it doesn't have meaning. Maybe it's not something to focus on in life. So, I'm here with Dr. Mike Rucker, and he is going to challenge all of that. He has a new book out called The Fun Habit: How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life. I saw the topic and immediately was like, I have to interview this person. And then I read the book and it was everything I wanted it to be and more. I have so many questions for you. So, Dr. Rucker, thank you so much for being here.

Mike Rucker: Oh, thank you so much for having me and thanks for the thorough review of the book.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, no, it was awesome. I always really appreciate books aesthetically. Were you involved with the cover, the colors and everything?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, a tip of the hat to the graphic artists that put it together. I think we certainly wanted something that stood out, and initially there were some designs that had imagery and icons, and it just wasn't working. So, yeah, when that landed both me and the acquiring editor, we're like, okay, this is an easy yes, it's kind of a homage to Brené's book the Daring Greatly similar aesthetic, but yeah, if nothing else, I've heard that it's like on every airport bookshelf, which is great and I think probably just because it looks pretty it stands up.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, that's awesome. Have you been traveling and seen it in the airport?

Mike Rucker: I have and then, obviously friends have snapped photos, like, "Hey, I was in Philly. Your book's there." I was in Florida. I've gotten about seven or eight different locations. When I initiated the book tour, my layover was in Chicago on the way to California. That's when I first got to see it because I think for any first-time author, the idea of seeing it in the airport is sort of exciting. There was, like, front and center, and I didn't really know what to expect, and so I just asked someone passing by, could you take a picture of me?

That created this little flash mob signing and selling some books. So, that was my first taste, speaking of fun, it was just so endearing, and I remember being so nervous. Like, I'm sure the inscriptions were just awful because my hand was shaking so bad, just because I was excited but nervous at the same time and it was a very small book tour. People don't do extensive ones too often anymore unless they're celebrities. But it was back in my hometown, so that was less nerve wracking. But yeah, I'll never forget that it was exciting and intense at the same time.

Melanie Avalon: That is so cool. I feel like with book publishing, there's like, a few outlets where it's like goals, so it's like Barnes & Noble, Target, but airports, I feel like airports are, like, the goal, so that's so, so cool. Well, I will let listeners know that your work has been all over. So, you've been in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Telegraph, Psychology Today, Forbes, Thrive Global, MindbodyGreen. So many things, but like you said, this was your first book, and you talk about this in the book extensively. What is your backstory? When did you first become interested in the science of, "Fun?" And maybe how does that compare to happiness, for example? But in any case, what led you to write this book?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, so now I have a more discreet answer. It's funny, I've been asked this over and over again, and I don't know that I entirely knew, but now I can say it, I think with some brevity. So, it's a few things, my academic background is in workplace wellness, and so this construct that's closely tied to fund the construct of autonomy and how much that plays into our wellbeing. I think it was the underpinning, probably the reason I felt that I had enough wisdom to talk about the subject matter. As a behavioral scientist, hedonic tone is an important component but often overlooked of creating good habits.

We know we're drawn to that are fun. And so, more and more we're talking about how can we make things more fun at an intervention level so that people actually stick with them. That's the interest from a scientific standpoint, from a personal standpoint, the origin of really putting pen to paper is that I am a charter member of the International Positive Psychology Association, and why that's important is I've been using those tools, essentially when the facet of the IPPA was brought forth in 2005, we were really looking at all of these tools like gratitude, mindfulness and I had been using those tools fairly effectively for almost a decade to the point I had it fairly optimized.

And then when my younger brother passed away in 2016. I really got knocked off my pedestal. And long story short, I continued to try to use all of these tools of optimism and positivity to get myself back to a state of happiness and paradoxically found that the more I chased happiness, the less happy I was becoming and I wanted to unpack that. And I guess serendipitously emerging research during that time was supporting that. Now we talk about toxic positivity in a fairly common way, but back then we weren't really looking at how the motivation of good vibes only wasn't hitting and actually, especially in the west causing problems. And so, I wanted to unpack why that was, and that was the beginning of that journey.

Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Like you said in the book, you actually wrote it at the start of the pandemic. Is that when you started it?

Mike Rucker: Yeah. The manuscript was very academic in nature. In 2016, I just finished my dissertation and so still had idle hands. So, I think I would have written anything at that point. The manuscript was finished pre-pandemic, but then when it got sold, Simon & Schuster rightfully was like, "This reads like a literature review. You're going to have to blow some life into it." So, the rewriting of the manuscript is really you know the book that you have today was done during the pandemic. 

Melanie Avalon: Well, you did a really good job of infusing it with a lot of character. Like, you tell so much of your own personal stories and then you have these, like, a wall of fame museum for different historical figures who exhibited characteristics of fun, like Einstein. I thought that was so cool. So, a question, though, about people's-- so going back to the happiness concept, so happiness, you just talked about it, about how ever so I'm sorry about your brother, by the way. And so, you talked about how you felt this need to return to a state of happiness and I think people often feel like they need to find happiness. I guess we need to define what happiness is. Well, maybe we'll start there. What is happiness?

Mike Rucker: Yeah. And so that's what's interesting, right? I think happiness could be anything to anyone, but when you write a book like this, you need to define it. For me, I went to the academic sort of understanding and I think a lot of what is prescribed to us, if we're allowing happiness to be marketed to us, this idea of subjective wellbeing, right, that it's really this act of evaluation and you look at happiness as a spectrum. Like, how happy am I now? How happy am I compared to my neighbors? This general sense of where do I rank within my social structure. Like, am I happier than XYZ?

When you look at it that way, it's problematic in a couple of ways. One, when you quantify it, what happens when you do get to that peak measure again, where I was in 2016, where I thought I had everything going for me, really the only direction from there is to the bottom like you're going to fall off that pedestal at some point. The other is when you're always in that state of evaluation, so it becomes less an act of mindfulness and more an act of rumination.


If you're not where you want to be, you're sort of striving for some sort of curated ideal, which happens more and more now with social media. Then you start to put server rate on that gap between where you want to be and where you are today. That rumination is almost like cognitive behavioral therapy in reverse. You start to have these negative scripts like, "Oh well, if happiness is over there and I'm here, I must not be happy. And that can get insidious because over time then you just always you are sort of yearning for something where the goalpost is always moving. And so that's where happiness has gotten pretty problematic here, especially in the United States.

Melanie Avalon: So, does unhappiness then always require some level of comparison, like either to other people, so I'm not as happy as other people or within yourself? Like I'm not as happy as I could because if you don't compare to anything, you would just be?

Mike Rucker: Right. That's more an existential argument, I think, for me. But you're spot on. I meant that idea is where am I in the moment? And so, these things are meant to be ephemeral. But if you're thinking about trying to create some sort of a consistency instead of really enjoying the moments that are in front of you, that's when it can become problematic because you start to lose that emotional flexibility that makes us okay if maybe we get in a fender bender or something casually bad happens to us and we realize that that's going to be as ephemeral as the things that we enjoy, and so when you're always kind of focused on the state of evaluation and the outcome, then when things do go wrong they become a lot more problematic. And over time, if that's all you are kind of steering your ship towards, then it can lead to real clinical outcomes. Again, as you know in the book, I showcase empirical evidence that we're drawing pretty straight lines from being overly concerned about your happiness and things like clinical depression and anxiety.

Melanie Avalon: I guess it's kind of the glass half empty, glass half full, but are some people just happy? I don't know. I kept thinking about this when I was reading that whole chapter and then throughout the book. I just always feel happy, so even if something really bad happened, I went through something personal recently that was pretty bad from my experience of it and I remember right after people were asking or like my sister was asking, are you okay? Are you going to be depressed? For me it's just like, no, my thought of happiness doesn't really change. I can experience these bad things, but it doesn't really ever make me feel like I wouldn't be happy. And so, my question is, are some people like that and some people just aren't? And if so, why? Also how far back does it go, like when you're born, are you set up to be happy or not?

Mike Rucker: So, those are great questions. I'm going to lean on the research of Sonja Lyubomirsky, she's out of UC Riverside, and what she's pulled together from various research is that about 50% is genetically predetermined. Based on the accessibility of neurochemicals like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, you could have a biological slant to just feeling better about life. 10% is set up by your happenstance. We know that money only has a certain amount of utility, but if you are in a fairly low socioeconomic class, there are going to be headwinds and a lack of privilege that other folks don't have. Once you get to upper middle class, the effect of your circumstance tends to level out. But certainly, we can't skirt the fact that some people are privileged and some people aren't. So that's about 10%. There's 40% that's in our control. That's where the agency and autonomy and wisdom that we have to navigate our life really comes into play.

If you have a poor set of tools and don't really believe that you have control over the things that happen to you, that's when you can get in these states where again, you're ruminating on your misfortune. You don't believe that you can change your circumstance and you tend to see these downward spirals. Now if you can maneuver that 40% in your favor and it sounds like inherently you already have some of these skill sets, then you can realize, like, "Okay, this is an appropriate time to not feel great. Like, I might not necessarily tell my sister I'm happy, but I do know that I can find ways to mitigate the fact that at least episodically right now does kind of suck, but I'll get back there. A lot of it has to do with you understanding that you do have agency and autonomy over your domain and that you can invite in joy and delight if you do it deliberately.

Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Okay, that makes sense. Yeah, because the way I feel about it, I feel like there's me, like my inner core that's very-- I don't know, I'm all very happy. And there're life experiences that might be not fun or sad or whatever they may be, but they're like layers. They're not actually touching my inner spirit [laughs] if that makes sense.

Mike Rucker: No, it absolutely does, I think, because we could get deep in the weeds here. Your propensity to hold on to that, your propensity to potentially have it-- the same circumstance might be traumatic for someone and truly traumatic, they experience it as pure trauma where another person can, even though it's equally as bad, will evaluate it in a different way and find coping mechanisms to get through it. That's why you see, at the most extreme, people that go to war and some people come back with a certain amount of resilience, and some people come back with a clinical outcome like PTSD. Some of that's going to have a biological component. Some of it's going to be what psychological resources did you have to have the resilience to get through that? And so, at a casual level, we talk about it as emotional flexibility. In the most extreme, we have examples of that as well. Again, there's a nature and a nurture component of it.

Melanie Avalon: Got you. Yeah, well, it's funny. So, this is the way I felt about this. I'm actually prepping right now to interview Gabor Maté, who's like, the trauma king. So, I am reading his book, and then now I'm like, "Oh wait, [laughs] maybe I do have trauma." But so, in any case.

Mike Rucker: Well, and it's interesting that's similar to I think in our pre-interview we're talking about the evolution of biohacking. I think you're seeing an evolution of understanding what does get passed down because I think there are certain aspects of trauma that are encoded and that's clear from the science. I think, even 10 years ago, just for the listeners and yourself, I have a Sam Harris' slant. I really do need to see some level of evidence to believe things that-- at first blush seemed almost unbelievably remarkable. But It's clear that those things do leave an imprint. And so, I think that's why it does become important to be a good steward of those types of experiences. The more we have resilience, the more we might not pass it down to the ones that we love, either through social contagion or this aspect of biology that we're only just beginning to understand.

Melanie Avalon: The idea of inherited trauma and passing it down is really, really fascinating, so okay.

Mike Rucker: We took a hard laugh, I'm sorry.


Melanie Avalon: On that note. So that's happiness, fun. What is fun and how does it differ from happiness or how do they relate?

Mike Rucker: So, for me, I defined it with, well, one, it's grounded in psychology, but it's a really wide tent and so anyone that understands the psychological construct of valence, I describe fun as anything on the positive side of valence. And valence is pretty easy to understand. It's essentially anything that we find pleasurable that we want to continue to do that we're attracted to. Anything on the negative side of valence are things that essentially burn us out, take energy, or put us in a mild state of discomfort, things that sort of repel us that aren't fun. As far as a clinical definition, that makes it really easy. Like, are you enjoying what you're doing, and do you want to do more of it, or are you not enjoying what you're doing and you don't want to do more of it?

The problem with that latter aspect is sometimes we can trick ourselves fairly easily to believe that we're doing something that's kind of enjoyable, but then when you unpack it, you're like, actually, I'm kind of mad that I spent my time spending an hour on Instagram or whatever it is. There are these modern-day things that are more problematic than we've ever seen before because behavioral scientists like myself have tricked us with certain mechanisms that make us believe we're enjoying ourselves when we're really not.

Melanie Avalon: Yeah, or similar to that because you're talking earlier about the role of autonomy, and you talk in the book about how even in the modern workspace, there are jobs where people think they have autonomy, but they actually don't. Like Uber and Lyft and things like that. So, how much does that matter? Do you have to have the realization that it was a little bit of a lie or you were misled or you weren't actually having fun? Or do you still experience the negative psychological and health benefits even if you think the whole time, you're having fun. like with social media?

Mike Rucker: Yeah. Well, it's two parts, right? I think we're often easily tricked and so they do become somewhat addictive. The best way to look at it is, are you really just trying to displace discomfort? That mildly feels pleasurable, but when you think about it's really just that you're bored or there's something that you want to get your mind off of. It's not really that you're enjoying yourself. It's really that you're just displacing that discomfort. It's really easy for us to mix those two up, right. Because when we're out of pain, which essentially is psychological pain, then we can trick ourselves to be like, "Oh, well, this is pleasurable. Is it or did it just get you out of pain? In some of the literature, we look at it as these constructs of either passive leisure or active leisure. It something that's actually filling you up, leading to betterment where you'd want to do it?

Again, another great litmus test is if I asked you a week from now, could you tell me what you were doing? Because oftentimes in those situations because if you haven't encoded any information in your brain because your subconscious has told you this isn't important or exciting or a teaching moment or something you want to remember, then it truly is a passive activity. So, as you read in the book, where that can become quite problematic if you've habituated that behavior, is that if your brain is not encoding any new information, you'll look back, like a lot of us did during the pandemic, when we really were in the state of boredom and mild discomfort and not remember what happened. That's why the pandemic to most of us, even though we perceive it as long when we look back at it, our memory of it feels like 10 or 20 days. Moving from passive leisure to active leisure is important for a whole host of reasons. But again, when we're in this passive leisure state, it tends to just sort of pass time. We deem it not important and it's nothing that we're going to look back at and be proud of.

Melanie Avalon: Yeah, that was something that blew my mind that had never occurred to me. But you talk about how these passive yielding memories, if you're doing your commute every day to work, how it's literally stored as one memory in your brain or like in the same place, unless something happens to make it different.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, the way it was described to me by a neuroscientist that I think makes the most sense because whenever you don't have deep knowledge of a certain domain, you have to regurgitate the esoteric version. So, someone much smarter than me gave me this anecdote that I think makes it fairly easy to understand. We know that essentially our brains at least, the memory storage component is like a hard drive and so, what is more efficient? Keeping 1000 copies of the same magazine or essentially throwing out 999 and saying here's the one magazine that I know I had 1000 copies of? And so that's how the brain works.

It's like, I know this commute, I know that I've done this commute a thousand times, but I really only need to store one or two versions of this memory because it's not important. I just need to know how to do it. And so, this is getting a little bit off topic from the research I did for the book, but I worked for a cognitive brain training company and learned a lot about neuroplasticity and so, one of the things to build cognitive reserve that we prescribe is simply just driving your commute in different ways or giving yourself access to people that have contrary-- in a psychologically safe way giving yourself access to people that have ideas that are contrary to you, so that you start to think outside of these neural pathways that are well developed in your brain. And we know that that builds neuroplasticity. So, the same thing applies here. We know that novel experiences also add all of that cognitive reserve that can be very valuable as you age when you need to access that memory that's sort of been preserved biologically because you've made use of it.

Melanie Avalon: That is so cool. I mean, it's pretty evident if you just think about it, like specific unique experiences that you had that were, "Fun." You can usually remember the entire night event from beginning to end. When I read that in the book, I started thinking about it myself and I was thinking about how often I've taken the same drive to the grocery store every day. And then I started getting distressed about it. I was like, "Oh, I can't really remember all the different times."

Mike Rucker: And why would you? I'm sure you've had other behavioral scientists on. I mean, heuristics are there for a reason. And they can be helpful in a lot of contexts. But we also know that over time they become problematic because they make us continue to think more linear more and more. And so, our ability to come up with innovative solutions to coalesce ideas that aren't necessarily meant to be bound together, so that we can really think outside the box to use an old cliche, that stuff becomes important to sort of flex our creativity and the novelty in our lives in those ways so that we preserve that plasticity and the ability to think in a nonlinear fashion.

Melanie Avalon: I love it. Okay, so I have some more questions about fun itself, but before that, the pursuit of fun, because you talk about the role of pleasure and dopamine and anticipatory versus consummate pleasure and how with dopamine, what we are driven by is the actual pursuit of getting the thing we want rather than actually getting that pleasure hit. So, with fun, is it about the pursuit of fun or the actual having the fun?

Mike Rucker: There's levels to that. So, first, let's unpack what we've learned about dopamine and I think people are talking about it more openly, but it was certainly like sort of interesting to me in context and that is that we used to think of dopamine as the happy chemical, the thing that gave us this sense of pleasure. We now know that dopamine really is meant to be motivating, so we see the big releases of dopamine when we anticipate you already nodded to that instead of when we're actually engaging in that activity. So, again, most of this was looked at folks that were gamblers, that were doing the one-armed bandit slot machines and they could see their brains light up before a jackpot would happen, and then the fun sort of occurred if they won and then this big letdown if they lost. And so, we don't need to go into all the history of that.

But why it does become important is, if we allow these kinds of things that are fake fun, like social media, because essentially that's the same thing, we're looking for that variable reward. You know dopamine makes this exited and then maybe the next meme is funny or maybe it's a horrible waste of time and we spin the wheel again. The first is how do we game it? If we know that we're attracted to things that are sort of exciting and fun, how can we use that in a way to create our fun habit in a way that supports our betterment. That's kind of the first level. The second is knowing that these neurochemicals can trick us. How can we transcend that and really enjoy ourselves in the moment? So, it's sort of a move of using fun as a tool for contentment instead of excitement and say, you know what, these people that I've surrounded myself with, I could be with them for a long, long time.

Or this hobby that I'm enjoying, as you know I bring up numerous studies with folks from various facets, dancers and things of that nature that are able to sit with that, not necessarily because it excites them, but because they have such a strong connection with that thing that they just find fun in doing it. And so, it's kind of a one-two punch. How can you use it initially to draw yourself to things that are going to improve you? And then how do you move past sort of the excitement level and just realize that the things that you are connected to so deeply are really where-- is a source of fun that's everlasting right rather than being episodic?

Melanie Avalon: To provide some more clarity about what fun actually looks like, you have this play model in your book where you have four quadrants and there're four different types of experiences that we can have throughout the day. Could you tell listeners a little bit about that? I think it gives a nice practical picture of how people can do a "fun audit," like you say.

Mike Rucker: Yeah. The play model is a four-quadrant model and the letters P-L-A-Y; P stands for pleasing, L stands for living, A stands for agonizing, and Y stands for yielding. And so, if you're kind of trying to visualize this, the P and L are up on top and the A and Y are down below. And so, pleasing activities are things that we can engage in all the time. For some of us, it's going to be certain work tasks, certainly going to be connections with others and pets. It could be engaging in a hobby that doesn't take a ton of energy, but it's the things that we can do all the time. And so, one of the things these activities often get undervalued, but we know that when we're engaged in this way and really have a connection to what we're doing, our mind wanders less. And so, there's a whole host of science that suggests that too many of us let our minds wander all the time.

And the more that you do that, the less happy you generally are because one, you're not enjoying your day to day and when you are "mind wandering," and this work comes from Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert for anyone that wants to look it up, you tend to be a lot less happy because you're just in your head and you're not really enjoying the way you're spending your time. So, you want to find activities that actually you like enough that you're having fun.

The living quadrant is things that take a little bit more energy, but that we really like doing and that lead us to some sort of betterment mastery or connection to spiritual practice. So, that can be like a vigorous hike in nature. It can be a meditation practice. It can be 10,000 hours towards mastering a skill that's really important to you. These aren't things that we can do all the time, but that integrated into our life really fills us up and becomes an important aspect of things that we should have integrated into our life.

Mike Rucker: So, the bottom two quadrants, yielding and agonizing, I'll start with agonizing. So, agonizing are the things that we don't like to do that take a lot of energy. And we all have those, like, to say that those aren't going to be a component of your life is essentially a facet of toxic positivity. They're going to be hard things we need to do. I think if there are too many, then oftentimes we can look at those activities in that quadrant and go, how could I either improve them or potentially outsource them? Low-hanging fruit for entrepreneurs a lot of times is like, "Ha, this is really wearing me out. Well, how can we lighten that load then, right." Potentially free up some time where you can do things that you enjoy. But the most insidious and we've already laid the groundwork for understanding why it's the yielding quadrant, because when things don't take a lot of energy but we don't really enjoy them.

Oftentimes we're tricked into thinking that we do enjoy them, especially if they're activities that are displacing us from simple displeasure, like boredom or some low-level state of unease. We'll just do random things like channel surf or play on social media or doom scroll. For some, it's even friendships of convenience where they're like, I don't know, I just do this every Sunday. And so all of these things that really wear us down slowly but surely over time can become insidious. But as adults again, we tend to habituate our behavior so, a lot of times we'll do these things over and over again and not even realize how much time we're wasting. I mean, it's gotten so bad that both Android and iOS now have ways for you to see how much time you're spending on apps in any given week.

And generally, that's a great place to start if you feel like you might be lying to yourself. Like, I think I'm okay. Really, how much time are you spending on Facebook and Instagram? A lot of times, just that can be illuminating, and it's not Facebook and Instagram, your Gmail app. Do you really want to be spending 32 hours a week in email? Like, is that a good use of your time? And once you identify that, then you can potentially make better choices.

Melanie Avalon: Some questions about this model. So, did you come up with this or is this a model in psychology?

Mike Rucker: This I did come up with. It's based a lot on Lisa Feldman Barrett's work with emotion. So, definitely a tip of the hat to her. But the idea of pairing both challenges with valence, that was my idea.

Melanie Avalon: And, I wanted to clarify that for listeners so for listeners-- and maybe we can put a picture in the show notes if that's not a copyright issue?

Mike Rucker: Right, you're fine.

Melanie Avalon: Okay, great. I'm just looking at it right now and it has like, the copyright in the background. So, the X axis is the level of challenge so on the left it's easy and then it goes up to hard, and then the Y axis is fun. So, low is at the bottom, high is at the top. So, like, pleasing, what he talked about at the beginning is the top left quadrant, so, that's high fun, but low-challenge living is high fun. It's at the top right, so it's high fun and high challenge. And then agonizing is the bottom right. So, it's very challenging and not fun. And then yielding is the bottom left, so it's not very fun and also not very challenging. So, a question about-- when I interviewed. Do you know Seth Stephens-Davidowitz? He wrote a book called Don't Trust Your Gut. He's all about data and is he also a behavioral scientist? Maybe? But he had a chapter on happiness and he talked about a study, which I wasn't sure I was reading your book and it might have been the same thing. He talked about the mappiness study. It was like an app and they asked people randomly, I don't know how many people, a lot of people, randomly throughout the day, what are you doing and are you happy? And then they were able to figure out what correlated to happiness or not.

Mike Rucker: I have a study because it's kind of the crux of we're jumping into the middle, but I think it's a good pause point to give homage to when I was putting this book together, where I was like, "Whoa, okay," I'm onto something. So, there have been a lot of those time-use studies, the Matthew Killingsworth one might be the one that you're talking about because theirs is fairly famous, but there was another one done on the hedonic flexibility principle, this comes out of Stanford, Harvard, and MIT, and they're all using the same technology that Cheek Sent Me High created to start doing his flow studies. The check-in is something that Cheek Sent Me High invented, and then so many of us have used it in our own research just because it is a great way to access time-use data and you're doing it in real-time, right. People tend to not be that great when you do these time audits at the end of a week, right.

Melanie Avalon: At the end, yeah.

Mike Rucker: Anyways, I digress, but with the hedonic flexibility principle, what they found was when people weren't having fun and the folks that are really burnt out, they end their work day really looking for poor ways to escape that discomfort. And so, whether that's passive leisure, whether that's things like drinking and drug use, just other poor uses of time that aren't very healthy, and ways for your own betterment. That's what happens and it becomes this vicious cycle, right. But what was sort of amazing from this study, because again, it was to look at are we truly pleasure-seeking animals. Like, if you're having a good time, do you continue to look to have a good time?

But what they found was, if you are the type of person that has good transition rituals between being productive and then leisure time, you're taking time off the table for yourself. Those are the people that show up the next day and are way more productive, actually have the vigor and vitality to take on the hard challenges. So not only are they more productive, so producing more than the folks that think they're working by essentially keeping themselves busy, but aren't enjoying their life.

I think the second component of this study is even more fascinating. These are the ones that look for harder challenges because they feel like they're living a full life. They actually seek out new challenges, new ideas, and new things to tackle. Whether that is in their sort of leisure time, like climbing Mount Everest or whatever it is. For a lot of us, it's marathons, etc., etc. But also in their professional lives, so there's this real paradox, right? It's either an upward spiral or a downward spiral but so many of us, especially here in the US, anyone that's been on LinkedIn throughout 2023, it's just study after study about how burnt out, we are, how the US second to last with regards to providing leisure. And even in that case, the fact that we're only giving ten days off for one year's worth of work, only 50% of people are even taking a vacation when it's offered to them. It's clear that not having fun and not engaging in leisure is leading to these really poor outcomes. And again, the paradox or the unfortunate thing, is the people that do have these bumper rails on their schedule that are like, I'm going to work hard, but then I'm going to enjoy my time outside of work, are the ones producing the best work and also the ones seeking out new challenges. So, sorry, but that study has 28,000 participants, so it's really hard to not say the rigor of that study, how powerful that message is.

Melanie Avalon: No, that really resonates with me. What's interesting and it's really nice to hear because I'm a sort of a workaholic. And the thing about though is like I genuinely enjoy what I do, like it's just so fun. I say that all the time. So, it's hard for me to not be working. But I'm actually very, very intense. So, you talked about that transition time. I'm really, really, intense with my schedule every day, and I basically get up and just work all day, but I love it. But then every night I have an entire routine where I transition into my wind-down mode. And normally while I'm-- Well, I know this is very specific, but while I'm eating dinner, I'm still reading books and researching. But then at the very end, then I have my me-time. That's where I just read whatever I want to read, even if it doesn't relate to longevity or science or shows. I used to feel a little bit bad about that because I was like this is not being productive. But it sounds like that is productive in the long run.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, I think you're exactly right. So, it's funny because as any of us are developing our ideas, I think there's always this evolution of wisdom where you have to believe in absolute and then, I pay homage to it in the book, right. The map and the territory. Like, when you're first approaching an academic concept, you kind of learn the map, you do your literature review, you learn from the folks smarter than you. Then you start to understand the territory. And so that's all to say when I first was like, "Okay, these transition rituals are so important and leisure is important because I was thinking about it from a purely quantitative standpoint."

I had a conversation with Noah Kagan from AppSumo and was sharing some of these ideas that had generally been well received and he was like, "In my 20s, I was grinding it out till 10:00, 11:00 PM every night essentially working throughout the day but I was having a great time. I took that to heart and kind of went back. I think exactly what you described in line with what Noah described, as long as you're doing it by your own accord because the difference for Noah was, he was using his autonomy. And he might call it all work, but it was time where they were all at a house having a few beers and doing hackathon-type stuff. They could stop at any time, that was their choice. So, yes, was it producing a work product, potentially? But it was not outcome-focused, there wasn't a boss telling them what to do. And it sounds like the scenario that you shared is similar

Like, I would point to the study I brought up in the book that in this loose definition of fun that we have, it's more fun to work through lunch if that's your choice than being forced to take lunch with your boss when that's not something you necessarily wanted to do or find enjoyable. And so, I think again, the key construct here is autonomy and are you drawn to the thing that you're doing? If it is, if everything that you're doing throughout your day, even though it moves you forward with regards to your vocation or how you make money, but it's fun and you could stop it at any time, and it's not a form of escapism. I'll table that, but go back to it, then I think you're fine, right, like that is fun.

You have the choice to recharge the batteries in a way that makes sense to you. So, I think you're okay having that transition ritual. It's when one and what I said that I would table if it does become this form of escapism. Again, you see athletes that train so hard that ultimately they're depleting so much glycogen that, the practice the next day it might look like time spent towards mastery, but in reality they're really driving themselves physiologically into the ground. You see the same thing with busy entrepreneurs. At some point, if you're not really enjoying yourself and taking time off the table, eventually you're going to burn out and so you need to know that about yourself.

And then also, are you just engaging in admin work to make yourself feel busy because that's essentially just another activity in the yielding quadrant, so now there are people looking at this, Dr. Cassie Holmes that has an amazing book herself and her colleague Colin West, who's now at the University of Toronto. They call it admin work. Just work that you're kind of doing because so much of your self-worth is derived by productivity that you're essentially answering emails that you don't need to be answering. And it's not driving anything forward. It's really just displacing the fact that you're so addicted to work that you're escaping that discomfort. That can become problematic. But those are the two sorts of things to look out for. If you're enjoying most of the time and you show up the next day with the same amount of energy that you did the day before, it's probably not problematic. So, anyways, I'm just giving you creative license to keep, you do you?

Melanie Avalon: That's really interesting about the admin work. It's funny because one of my good friends, he hates admin work and we had like a really long conversation the other night just about admin work because he was saying how much he doesn't like it and I was saying how much I love it because it's a kind of what you just said. It makes me feel productive, but it's really easy to do. So, then I get to pair it with watching a movie. Now I'm just thinking about a lot of things. It's probably a problem that I wouldn't want to just watch a movie because then I would have anxiety about not being productive but then if I pair it with meaningless admin work, then I feel like I'm being productive and watching a movie.

Mike Rucker: Activity bundling at its best.

Melanie Avalon: Okay, so was that activity bundling or is that not being mindful?

Mike Rucker: Well, it's probably a little bit of both to be honest. It depends if you need it to get it done.

Melanie Avalon: True. I do normally need to get it done.

Mike Rucker: Yeah. So, you're okay, I talk about it in the context of physician work. Because my academic practicum was helping out physicians. So, there's twofold, right? Certainly, I think physicians need a lighter workload, but that's not feasible right now, and that might not be in your busy life. Something that you could tone down, certainly something to be mindful of, like, is this a good use of my time, is there a certain amount of time that I do need to stop? But if not, then activity bundling can be a great way to sort of still enjoy yourself, but get through that type of admin work.

So, with physicians, they call it pajama time right and it's insidious. And gain, unfortunately, it's just now that electronic medical records are here, part of their job is to respond to patients, and they generally do that after having dinner with their family. So, it's one of those interesting things that, like anything, you need to hold both because both are true. Yes, it is a great way to make things that might not necessarily be fun more enjoyable, so, you're doing it right. The other is, are you working too hard to the extent that if your whole day is work, you're not going to be able to show up the next day?

And the problem is there is that this can happen slowly over time. So, that's what we're seeing with physicians. Like, yeah, I can man through it. I can use grit to get through these next six months, but after two or three years, it slowly starts to kill you. And so, with physicians in particular, because this is one where I have deeper knowledge, once you get to that state, you start to lose empathy for your patients. And we know there's a direct correlation between patient empathy and patient outcomes. So, it's not just to protect the physician, right it's also generally this has a ripple effect.

I think that's, I guess, a cautionary tale because it sounds like you're fine, but ultimately, if you start to resent the work, then you do need to check in with yourself and go, can I potentially defer this admin work or delegate it to someone else? For entrepreneurs that's often something that's harder to do than you think it would be because you know the Tim Ferriss' of the world right have taught us how to have a 4-hour work week. But I have worked with so many entrepreneurs that why are you still doing that? You really don't find it enjoyable? Well, yeah, I don't do it. It's not going to get done and you find out its social media posts or something, like really? "Do you really think that's that impactful?"

Melanie Avalon: So, it's really funny. My friend was a doctor, so I didn't realize this was like a thing then. And yes, I find outsourcing, it's something that I wish I had been doing more of earlier and I wish even now I had more confidence to do more of because it's what you just said. You feel like if you don't do it, you feel like if you don't do it then everything's just going to crash and burn, but that's probably not the case. And I also want to let listeners know because we're talking about this role of autonomy and your daily decisions I your work life. I have a question, but I know you have the answer. So, is that autonomy just possible as an entrepreneur or can people find autonomy in a 9:00 to 5:00 job where they have a boss and you have a whole section on this with tips and tricks? But is there hope for people regardless of their work situation?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, it's really going to be dependent on the job. I'll rightfully get constantly called out because some of these inherently are going to have privilege. Again, I point back to working with physicians that really don't have a ton of autonomy and still finding ways to instill it. But if you can't find a new job, if you're really feeling burnt out by the one that you're in, how can you have a critical conversation with leadership and say, I want to understand what the expectations are for this week, and I'm going to really do a great job, and I'm going to overcommunicate that so that I can, in return, have some autonomy on how I go about the week.

More often than not, if you are forward with that and you have a conversation with your boss or your leader, generally if you say like, look, I'm going to overcommunicate all of this, especially if you're under sort of a micromanager, it usually relents and you can start to build in more autonomy. Then there are simple strategies, right, I talk about this. But simply just like taking back your break and going, "I'm not going to work through lunch anymore." If you do lack autonomy in your job and I'm going to create that hour in a way that's meaningful to me, whether that is a hobby, like reading a book or connecting with a friend down the street. There was an amazing article, I always get the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times mixed up, it was in one of those two.

But it came out just a couple of weeks ago, maybe even put it in the show notes because I thought it was a great kind of validation of these ideas that how many partners are now using their lunchtime to reconnect because so many of us parents don't have that time anymore. And so, it's a beautiful way to sort of, one, reenergize your relationship, but two, just do something you take this break from work that's more fun and then going back and really crushing the second half of your day. So, where this becomes challenging is everyone's life is so unique, right. And so, you kind of need to look at the toolbox and decide which tool is going to work for you given your situation.

Melanie Avalon: Well, again, I will refer listeners to your book because you provide a lot of very specific tips and tricks for working with all this and getting more autonomy in your work. I have some last questions about the play model. We went on all different paths from it, but the original question I had related to that study where they were asking people what they were doing and what made them happy, they found that the top two things, number one was sex and number two was going to theater, actually like shows.

Mike Rucker: I'm pretty sure that is Matthew Killingsworth's study and yeah, it's the one about mind wandering. Yeah, I give a tip of the hat to that, for sure, because if you recall and maybe this is I didn't mean to jump the gun. I think what second to last was caring for children.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, was it? Oh, that's funny. Yeah, because I definitely want to get to that topic. So, those two things, so, like sex and seeing shows, would that be in the living category? But, like, seeing a show, how is seeing a show a high challenge? Because you're still just sitting there.

Mike Rucker: I think I jumped the gun. I do believe that connection with your partner, intimate connection is in the living quadrant because it's certainly not something you can do all the time.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, yeah, that would be, challenging, I think.

Mike Rucker: But going to a show potentially is more of a pleasing activity, because it's pretty passive and it doesn't take a lot of energy.

Melanie Avalon: Okay. But they're still on the fun category, basically. Got you. I just have a really random question because you mentioned, like, climbing Mount Everest. So, you went to Antarctica and you ran there?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, marathon tours out of Boston runs a marathon there. I think it was every year and now they've done it every other year and I'm sure it kind of slowed down during the pandemic, but, yeah, at least every other year, they run a marathon there. For any environmentalist, it has a huge environmentalist component and money is donated to that. The race takes place between the service roads of the four countries that have laid flag there. So that race is so long ago. I definitely know it's Chile, us, and then two other countries. So, you run the marathon through those service roads that have already been established. You don't trample the pristine nature of Antarctica, but it was amazing.

It really was, like, one of the first invitations to true on wonder, because I think, again, we've talked about the importance of encoding new memory. When you are invited to see something that you have absolutely no context to grab onto, it's almost like sensory overload. The ice is just so magnificent and sparkly and blue. And then I'd never been around-- I've been in nature preserves and things like that, but there are just so many penguins and so many big fish that just kind of come up to the surface to surprise you.

Melanie Avalon: Big fish?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, like, big fish you know.

Melanie Avalon: That you can see.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, we were kayaking around, and this whale came up right next to us, and I was like, this seems-- I talk about peak experiences being a component of edge work, and that certainly was edge work for me because I'm like, can't this thing just take its tail and knock us out? And so, we definitely swam away from it, and it was just checking us out, but it was just beyond words.

Melanie Avalon: How long were you there for?

Mike Rucker: A week. You live on a boat.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, a boat. Okay. I was, like, trying to figure it out. I was like, where did you stay?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, so you fly into-- I think there're several ways to get in now, but I believe we took the most popular way, and that you fly into Argentina, and then you take a boat from Argentina to there. I think there's a couple of other ways to get there. I don't believe unless you're part of a scientific expedition that you can fly in, almost everyone gets there by boat.

Melanie Avalon: Okay. Yeah, I was wondering about that because I knew it was really hard to get into Antarctica as far as the legality of it. So, it's four countries that have their little--

Mike Rucker: Yeah, they have military bases there and then the marathon takes place running along those roads.

Melanie Avalon: Wow, that's super cool. Okay, I'm inspired. Well, speaking of "Awe and wonder." And this was something else that really resonated with me because it's something that I feel-- it's like a nebulous concept that I feel like I appreciate in my life and have historically, but I never really seen somebody talk about it more scientifically. So, what is this concept of "Awe and wonder, and the mystery" and all of these different names that people give it?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, I think for me, certainly there's a whole science behind it. But for me, in the context of fun is when we're engaged with an activity that generally fun invited us to, again, maybe getting out in nature like that. I was invited to Antarctica because I wanted to run on all seven continents. So, that was kind of a whimsical goal and the fun of running, but invited me into that. But "awe" is when you sort of transcend whether something's enjoyable, like you're so awestruck, like, I was in the way that I described Antarctica that it defines having to make sense of your environment and you just feel this connection to something bigger than you.

And when you can do that, when you can sort of stop your brain from having to understand why something is happening, and you do understand that you kind of fit into something that's much larger than yourself, then your problems become smaller because you realize, like, "Oh, all of these things that I was sort of worried about were by my own design. And there's something out there that's just so magnificent that if I invite myself to it and sort of allow my brain to slow down in that fashion, so that I can just take it all in that, one, it's expansive, right and then two, even if you're agnostic or spiritual, you just realize how remarkable all of this is.

And so, there's a host of psychological benefits of knowing that you're connected to something and again, kind of making yourself smaller so that especially individualistic cultures where all of our problems seem so big, even though a lot of them are manmade. Again, that lightens that load, but it also releases oxytocin that increases empathy. So, once we are in those states, we just return better versions of ourselves. And then also when we're able to shut down, "Meaning-making or sense-making," we can kind of quiet the mind. A lot of anxiety lives in those perpetual loops where we're just trying to figure things out.

And when you can relinquish that need, even though it needs to come back when you can relinquish that judgment state that needs to make sense of what's going around you, then it really does quiet the mind and it helps us build resilience.

Melanie Avalon: And so, are these experiences things-- Because I know we talked about the ultimate version of it, like going to space and the overview effect and the astronauts going to Antarctica.

Mike Rucker: Again, dripping in privilege again.

Melanie Avalon: [laughs] I guess the question there though is are these things that you have to specifically seek out and experiences that you curate or can it just happen?

Mike Rucker: I think quite the latter. So, my only argument is that you do need to create opportunities for spontaneity to happen. And so, there're all sorts of different avenues. Certainly, it's accessible in nature we know that. It's certainly accessible through meditation practice. It certainly is accessible to those that feel a connection to spirituality. Again, if you quiet the mind and get away from dogma, it's also accessible to people that feel a true connection to what they're doing.

Whether that's ballet, whether that's tennis, you really can find that sense of "Awe and wonder," through the connection of flow. So, you initiate flow in that experience and then once you start having to sort of make sense of that hobby or activity, you can find it there as well. And then it's certainly available through true connection through intimacy. There's a strong argument to be made that casual intimacy can't be found there because there's so much meaning-making when you don't feel that connection to a partner and that's definitely for a different type of expertise than I have.

But I've read that literature and it seems that I think it's Steven Kotler in Stealing Fire. He really does a great job of unpacking, like how casual sex you immediately try to figure out why you're in this situation. Do you even like this person? But when you have a true connection with your partner and all of that, you're immense in that psychological safety. You can find that transcendence in those environments. I think all of that is to say that we know once you can get away from these constant feedback and intellectual loops that go on your head and know that there's something outside of yourself that you just don't need to understand and that you're safe and it's magnificent. And whatever that means, I don't think any of us are really ever going to catch that tiger by the tail. And it's that paradox, as soon as you don't have the need to catch that tiger by the tail anymore, you kind of just feel at peace wherever you find that peace.

Melanie Avalon: I'm just thinking now because I could see how from an evolutionary perspective that experience would happen with sex because it would be the ultimate continuing the species. And so even animals might have that experience. But the second piece of "Awe and wonder," related to just a life experience, is that also an evolutionary benefit, having that experience? And I'm guessing animals probably do not have that experience?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, that's a great question that I don't know that I'm qualified to answer. I think one of the things I've learned is in that area, I'm still kind of understanding that aspect of cognition because it's certainly like we're just getting to the neurological understanding of when we're able to shut those things off because I'm sure you've had guests talk about alpha, beta and theta and getting into those states and the value of those states. I know how to access them through fun. But that's a very pedestrian sort of entryway into understanding the science.

So, I want to be careful of not just embellishing something that I don't have a firm understanding of because I know the evolutionary standpoint of fun the way we believe it. And again, I confess this in the book, just like lightning, these are theories we don't truly understand. But it's clear that pro-social behavior and storming and forming the norming with regards to testing boundaries with both your parents and your friend's physical play. So, that where you start to develop dexterity and things of that nature and just sort of understanding how the world works through this playful engagement very much proves that fun has some reasoning with regards to how it was developed from an evolutionary standpoint. To answer your question about why "Awe and wonder," exist from an evolutionary standpoint, I'm not qualified to answer that.

Melanie Avalon: Something, I will research for fun.

Mike Rucker: There're two great books out that are both on my list.

Melanie Avalon: Which ones?

Mike Rucker: Awe, by one of the professors out at Cal, I think it's Keltner and then I'll have to look them up for you. But yeah, I know that because I got bundled into that category and so I know that there were two major releases out in January, both tackling "Awe" as a concept.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, interesting. Around the same time. Okay. I'll have to look those up for sure. Well, something you talk about is the role of relishing these moments. But in particular, I'm really interested because I really believe in the power of gratitude. You give a nuanced perspective of that. So, how does gratitude factor in? It the same thing as appreciating these experiences? If not, why? And how often should we be doing gratitude? because you had an interesting perspective on that.

Mike Rucker: Yeah. It's clear that when gratitude, like anything, is over prescribed it can lead to negative rumination. And so, I think you need to decide what's a good cadence for you. For some folks, it will be every day. For others, it might be just every week or every month and so you figure out what sort of makes sense for you. But it's clear that gratitude in the things that come our way, especially if we're the ones that are manifesting them, which is what I suggest in the book. Once we realize that we have control over how we bias our life towards fun and then are grateful for that ability, it tends to be this upward spiral. And so relishing is a great way to be grateful for the opportunities of fun that are brought into our life. And so, so many of us do sort of ruminate will unpack through introspection, big heady things which can be episodically important.

But not enough of use that time to spend time thinking about the fun things that we did do and so there're a host of benefits there. One, we know that for whatever reason and there probably was an evolutionary slant to this too we don't prioritize thinking about good things, because when we're cave people, we really did need to sort of ruminate on what are the threats in our environment and how do we make sure to keep ourselves safe. Well, the world's a lot safer now. And so, we know that when we are able to use that type of time, where we're being mindful of the things that happen in our life and really being grateful and relishing those activities, that one, we realize that there's an abundance of them and that, two, we have more power than we thought to bring them into our lives and so we'll tend to think about, how can I do the next cool thing?

So, one, it extends the power of fun because it's really pleasurable to think about the cool things that we did. But then, two, we can use those as opportunities to reintegrate them in our lives. Like oftentimes if I'm thinking about a cool vacation that we had, it will be a nudge to talk to my wife about doing it again. Or if you have a photo book, which is a great way to reminisce, like looking at a photo. "You know what? I haven't really talked to Susan for a long time." This was such a cool memory. One, let me remind her of that and then two, let me use that as a prompt to get back on her calendar so we can actually do that thing again.

This becomes really important because as fun as it doesn't sound to be premeditated about having fun, it really is just a key component of being able to make sure it exists in your life. As I looked at successful people over and over again that was a commonality almost across the board that they had to schedule this time into their calendar because oftentimes since we have become slaves to our calendar, if it's not on there it's so easy to just sort of push it on to the next week, next month, next year, until 10 years go by and you're like, wow, what happened?

Melanie Avalon: The chapter on reminiscing and creating your fun file and all of this stuff really resonated with me because I am all about the scrapbooking. Like I am a scrapbooker, which maybe speaks to my appreciation of fun, but I think that's actually like the actual physical scrapbooking, especially today because it's so physical, because we're so in social media and you do provide a lot of really cool resources for digital versions of scrapbooks. But I think it's kind of cool, like having an actual physical picture, like printing out pictures at Target, you can actually still do that. But I never really thought about why I was doing it and it is because I just love reminiscing and remembering these fun times. They really can keep giving.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, and it provides anchor, right? I think a digital asset is one thing, but especially if your scrapbook has tangible things that you can kind of feel or song lyrics or anything that invokes the information that you indexed in your brain, oftentimes that can reinvigorate a much stronger response and really bring you back into the moment instead of-- well, one. It's less distraction, right because it's something that was curated by you, like certainly at a very low level. You could do that through social media, but the whole thing has been designed to sort of steal your attention for the next shiny nickel. And so, being able to sit down with a curation of your own design that has tangible anchors that could potentially take you back to that moment is so much more powerful than relying on social media for that task.

Melanie Avalon: Actually, growing up, something I would often give people for presents is I would make them like mini scrapbooks, which took a lot of time. I got inspired because a friend did it for me and I was like, this is the coolest present I've ever received. So, yes.

Mike Rucker: Well, I've had various friends throughout the years, both intimate relationships and friendships that have had those and I keep them all to my wife's chagrin but she's really cool and understands why and not because I'm holding on to those memories, but because if your life was well lived, why not go back and hold those in high regard. Your life is meant to be this amazing mosaic tapestry and so those things really remind you that it allows you to hold on to those without kind of feeling like you're missing out on something. And so, I think those are really undervalued assets and that's really cool that you do that and especially give that gift to other people that likely wouldn't do it because maybe they're not as creative. Again, there are these inherent traits that are the superpowers that we can share with others, right and so I imagine that's one of yours.

Melanie Avalon: I wonder if this is a website already. It probably is because I know there's like online websites where you can make scrapbooks yourself, but I wonder if there's one where you can upload and they will make it all, there probably is.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, there is one.

Melanie Avalon: Like for gifts for people?

Mike Rucker: Yeah, it's in the book. It's not coming to mind, but I found one and I put it in the book.

Melanie Avalon: Okay, awesome. There's one that I have used for myself, but I wonder if there's one where you just completely outsource it.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, I think you essentially--

Melanie Avalon: Just upload the photos.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, and I think actually, I could look it up real quick, but I think you can send it to your social feeds and then it actually might even help you get started.

Melanie Avalon: That's cool. One thing I do think is kind of cool about Instagram, at least for me, is it is sort of like having an archive of your life that you can look back through. Which was not something that we had before, at least not that we're just doing daily and capturing, but okay, so this is a huge question I have and you talk about it in the book because I'm all about capturing the moment and getting the picture and saving the memories. And it's kind of attention, though, that I have when I'm going on a vacation or nice dinner or having an experience, the need or the desire to document and take pictures. And now it is for social media. But I've been doing this forever. Even growing up, when we go on trips, I'd be like, "We have to document everything." So, how do you have a healthy relationship between staying in the moment and also wanting to take pictures and stuff like that.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it's the balance, but the litmus test there is taking away from you really being in the moment of something wonderful and so the example I bring up in the book is I took my parents to the French Laundry, which for me is so expensive, but they love fine dining and it's one of those top 10 restaurants that I think everyone wants to check off the list. While I was there, there were people that literally weren't enjoying their food. They would just take photo after photo. And here's this amazing experience where you're really taking yourself out of the moment. And so many of us do that with our children as well, we kind of have to go back and look through the photos and then we kind of piecemeal back what the memory might have been. I think the extreme is the problem.

Obviously, if you do something amazing, like a trip to Antarctica, you're going to want to take photos, so it brings you back there. But then maybe just time block time where you're not going to have your camera out so that you have pictures that will take you back to that experience, but that you actually have that rich encoded memory where you haven't jeopardized that potentially by being mindful of your phone and not the actual experience. Where I find it really interesting and again, maybe this is an age-appropriate thing that's not necessarily rooted in science, but how many kids watch concerts through their phone. I find it amazing, especially because I find music such an immersive experience and I'll just really be in the moment.

I'll take a mental picture and realize, like, six out of the 10 people around me aren't watching the actual artist, they're watching the artists through their phone. And so, that's going to be their sole experience. Not the actual experience itself, but the fact that they watched it once through their phone and then as many other times as they want through their phone. So, again, I don't intimately know the pros and cons of the science there. What I will suggest is that you're certainly not in that experience. You're in this sort of weird virtual version of it.

Melanie Avalon: Speaking of biohacking, maybe the future, maybe the solution is we just get something integrated into our eyes and then our eyes are the cameras, and then we can just enjoy it and it's recording at the same time. [laughs]

Mike Rucker: I wonder if there's anyone doing research. I actually have found it valuable when the artists take your phone from you, so the first time that happened to me was seeing the White Stripes and you know you'd essentially had to-- they had this great way of storing your phones. They had all these lockers set up, so it was quite elaborate. And then you got them back after the show, but no one was allowed to have the phone. Then I felt like that collective effervescence that you get when you really do feel a connection to all the people around you was much stronger in that environment than, say, a concert where everyone was kind of not even paying attention to the people next to you. It's often like, "Oh, excuse me," because they're paying attention to their screen and getting the perfect shot than the folks that are actually experiencing this amazing show with them. This is more a conjecture in just my opinion than what's right or wrong, but it's an interesting evolution and I think one that's not going away to your point. So, hopefully, we can just get better at it so that people can have their media product and still enjoy the experience. I think you're spot on. Hopefully, we're on the way to that.

Melanie Avalon: Three thoughts to that. One, I think maybe that might well, I don't know, but it may factor in a little bit into why going to theater was found to be so fun because that really is the one experience today where you're going to a show. Like at live theater, some people will sneaky record, but most people do not have their phones out, which I think really makes that experience much more immersive and speaks to that. Two, I know a lot of people at their weddings now will do a no-phones thing.

Mike Rucker: Which I think is smart, too.

Melanie Avalon: Kind of cool.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, it's funny you say that. So, I went to my first wedding. It was right before the pandemic in Tulum, and the couple was really into mindfulness, so they asked that and it was really interesting to see the mild discomfort, you know what, and even in myself, because it was like, we love these folks. It's in Tulum, that this amazing like kind of quasi-spiritual setting, and I wanted to capture it and they're like, look, we have a professional photographer that's going to take way better pictures than you ever will, and there's still that selfishness, of like, "Yeah, but I want it on my phone." And so, because I like this kind of work, I identified it quickly in myself, like, "Yeah, this is super selfish, they're going to have way better pictures and then we can all share them." But it was also interesting as a geeky scientist to look around me and see the discomfort in people.

Mike Rucker: These are like a tight group of friends that all love each other and like this discomfort and like, wait, I can't take pictures of you. And that's their wish, it's their wedding and yet we were still all like, "Oh," that just tells you the power of these devices.

Melanie Avalon: So, what's really interesting is, so the way I've tackled it for going to dinners for me, I have this experience very similar to what you just described, where if I go to a dinner, I'll have this like below the surface anxiety until I get the picture. So, I know I've documented it and then I'm good. And so maybe I need to work on that actual discomfort with needing the picture. But the system that works really well for me is that right at the beginning, I get the boomerang of the drinks, I get the picture with the family or the friends, and then I put the phone away and then I'm, like, at peace.

Mike Rucker: Yeah. That's what I described in the book with the experience at French Laundry. I didn't bring my phone for reasons that we've already described, but I did have a culinary professor there that was friends with my parents. This is her jam and so she did that and then she put it away and then she was just amazing to watch her eat because I don't have that gastronomy gene. For me, I've been happy eating a hamburger, to be honest with you. To watch people that really love food, I was almost again, that's the sort of mirror neurons at work, right like, watching them just enjoy every morsel was so satisfying for me.

But I would have lost that too if I was on the phone or like, "Hey, take a picture, let's all get together." So, I think there are going to be times like that. Again, if you're on a girl's trip or a boy's trip and you want to over document it because it's already high arousal and there's nothing to really be mindful of, that's fine, but if you're doing something that's meant to be an immersive experience, where you're really going to get the most enjoyment out of it by encoding as much rich information as you can, then why would you want that information to sort of be condensed in a 3x3 digital monitor when you have the whole breadth of experience around you?

Melanie Avalon: Yeah, exactly.

Mike Rucker: So, it's Timehop and it's my social book. So, Timehop lets you curate posts from social media and redistributes them. So, it's kind of a better way of the year functionality in Facebook that kind of kicks back maybe memories that you don't want to remember. My social book does exactly what we discussed. It allows you to transform social media content into a tangible book.

Melanie Avalon: Very cool. Okay, so we will put links to that in the show notes. And then on one big topic we haven't touched on yet, what we touched on but we haven't talked about. So, I don't anticipate having kids. I don't think that's going to happen. But one of the main, I don't know if it's the primary reason, but I just feel like I, and this might come off as really selfish. I just don't know if I could do justice to both myself and raise a human being. I feel like I would lose a lot of time and fun, like my experience of my life because if I was a parent-- I just feel like I'm coming off as very selfish. If I was a parent, I would want to be the best parent ever and that would become my entire life which maybe is what you talk a little bit about with child-centric parents. But what have the studies found on parents and both their free time, their experience of fun? How does that affect things?

Mike Rucker: Yeah. It's clear that you are probably making a choice that's going to work for you. The science backs up the fact that people without children tend to, over time, have a lot more fun. Dan Gilbert is the one that's done some of the research in this area, and I am going to paraphrase him. I quote him in the book, but he essentially says that "Parents say that kids are fun because essentially they suck all the other joys you had previous to kids out of your life." So, I think you know one if-- and you're seeing this movement now, too. It's another interesting thing that's been validated by the book.

There's like this growing consortium of people that aren't having kids, and I don't know how much we want to unpack here. There's obviously this political stance. Whenever you make that assertion, you really get this backlash. The articles that I've read, again, because this is this emerging sort of agreement, there are a lot of people that believe that procreation is the only reason that we're here on earth right. So, you'll get this-- If that's the only reason, then somehow, you're not living a dutiful life.

I don't think we need more people right. It's clear we're coming close to entropy. The more people that don't want to have kids, probably the better for humankind. Again, I'll get off my soapbox there. But to answer your question, parents definitely can have a ton of fun and I love my kids. I'm glad that we had them. But by raw empirical standing, it's clear that yeah that you preserve your autonomy if you don't have kids. Does that answer your question?

Melanie Avalon: Yeah, it's so interesting because I think it does speak to the zeitgeist, even like me approaching the question when I was talking about my desire to not have kids. I feel like just saying that is a bad thing.

Mike Rucker: I know. And answering your question, even though it's completely objective data because I know because I've seen it, again, it's like, whether it's the Puritan, Protestant, work ethic, social norm or this social norm that I want you to have kids too. I don't think I put it in the book. It's in one of my blog posts and maybe I'll share it with you so you can put it in the show notes. But it's this amazing Ben Stiller movie and Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys is one of the actors, and he just has this new kid and then he quips and it's so perfect. He's like, before you have kids, all of these parents tell you how great it's going to be and then the second this kid comes out, they're like, "Oh, don't worry, it will get better eventually." And then they just keep saying that, [laughs] and I think there's some truth and we all know how hard it is, and yet we want to elevate that sort of status as a parent because you don't want the dissonance of believing you made a poor decision and so your life fundamentally changes.

If you're an honorable person, you're going to live up to that expectation and so there's no turning back. You have to figure out what fun and joy means to you. But if you want to make a choice that you don't feel like you're going to regret, then the data is on your side that you were going to potentially have a more breadth of options for fun than you would have if you were a parent because one, you have more resources, and two, you have more free time. That's just the fact.

Melanie Avalon: I like that answer. I'll be really curious to see the evolution of research, especially like you were just saying-- because you're saying there's more research on this now than there has been.

Mike Rucker: You gave me one of the best pre-interview guides I've ever had, so thank you for that. But one of the questions you said to be prepared for was the modern meritocracy and this idea comes from David Lancey and it is that for the first time ever, there are a few things going on that we've essentially put kids in a spot that they never have been before. In previous eras, this concept of benign neglect has always been the social norm for parenting, like me and my brother were allowed to go bike outside and go to the park by ourselves, I think, at the second grade. Not only that but people were having kids much younger, the social dynamic was just different. Grandparents could help lighten the burden of child rearing. Well, now we're all having kids much later and our parents are living much longer, so we're now in what is called the sandwich generation.

Our autonomy is even less when we have kids because we're having to take care of these kids. And we're also now having to take care of our parents, which we didn't have to before, but also, they can't help us take care of our kids. So, there're all of these social headwinds that are coming at us that are making parenting more complex than it ever has been, and yet we don't really bring that to light because of whatever reason. And then especially just looking at the data with regards to parity and domestic partnerships, men were starting to make headway before the pandemic. But if you believe the data, the pandemic kind of blew that up.

Men just weren't really that, for whatever reason, weren't being as helpful in domestic duties, helping kids sort of reestablish. That walked back a lot of the progress that was made. And so, recent time use surveys have shown that, unfortunately, again, wives and domestic partnerships are some of the most time-poor individuals, because-- now I'm stumbling with my words. But that's just an unfortunate reality. They have the least domain over their time versus any other sort of segment within social demographics.

Melanie Avalon: I wonder what the effect would be. I have not interviewed this person, but have you heard of the Sparketypes?

Mike Rucker: I have not.

Melanie Avalon: I really want to interview the guy. He did a massive study and collected data and came up with basically seven different Sparketypes. But they're basically the thing that you do in life that gives you purpose and meaning. They're different things for different people and some things are like, give people purpose and some people they're draining. So, my top two for purpose was performer and maven. So, like, seeker of knowledge and performing, which is crazy because the show is a performative version of seeking knowledge, which I thought was really a little bit eerie. But my most draining one-- [crosstalk]

Mike Rucker: It seems to fit you like a glove, right.

Melanie Avalon: I know. It was crazy. I was like, "Oh, this is spot on." The one that was hardest for me that would be the most draining for me was a nurturer. So, apparently, I am not a nurturer, which is basically like being a parent. So, I wonder if people who are a nurturer, like, their number one thing like that's what gives them purpose if they would have more fun as a parent compared to me, where it sounds like it would just be the most draining thing for me.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, and I think that's a good entry point into what I highlighted in the chapter. This work comes out of the University of Toronto, but parents that are child-centric that have won the psychological safety and the resources to be able to manage child-rearing in a way that doesn't create a lot of friction within the family unit because, again, we're talking about multiple headwinds. I hope anyone that's listened to the last 10 minutes knows that we're kind of brushing over an immense amount of complexity over the last 50 years with regards to parenthood. And especially that being pretty specific to Western cultures. All that said, it's still true. You can't skirt the data, but the parents that have been able to transcend some of those challenges are the ones that really do find enjoyment in watching their children flourish.

If you are child-centric, your whole sort of universe revolves around supporting this child in a healthy way. Not the helicopter parents or anything, but just like, "Hey, I've had these kids for the next 18 years plus." That's going to be where I derive the way that I make an impact and the way that I derive enjoyment, then those folks really do thrive. And so, I don't know much about spark, but it does sound like if you have a component of nurturing that makes you feel good, it certainly sounds like that would apply. But the science around child-centric parents certainly makes a case that, if you are able to shift to that mindset where like, okay, this is our job right now and I'm going to go all in on. It really does lead to happier times.

Melanie Avalon: The nuance about it would be that because I think if I were a parent, I would adopt that, but it's not what I would want to be doing. Well, clearly it would be what I want to be doing because I'm making that decision to be that way, I guess it's a higher value for me. So, I'd want to be like that. In life, maybe it goes back to the autonomy thing. I feel like I might lose my autonomy because I wouldn't be doing what I would really want to be doing with my life. And again, now I feel like I have to make caveats about-- I feel like I'm not trying to be selfish, but it would just be draining for me is the point to engage in.

Mike Rucker: But I don't think enough people play that forward and then some people get stuck in the "what if." And so, you're sort of being really mindful of what it is you want? And I think you're going to have the naysayers that say, well, but at 45 it might be harder to make that choice. If you do feel like you made a mistake, adoption is still an option and things of that nature. So, there's some complexity. There's biology involved, there are social norms involved, and there're socioeconomic things involved because again, what decision you make could be dependent on what resources are available. So, there're so many things that go into that decision.

I think what is clear is that the folks that do make a firm decision and are really mindful about it, which it sounds like you are, tend to not regret it at all and live really rich, experience-filled lives because again that just becomes accessible when you have more autonomy and more resources because we know-- I think by the last measure, the standard child costs $250,000 to $300,000 per child through their lifetime, right and that's kind of like that's the average. I'm sure for some people it's more and some people it's less. But that's a lot of money you could use to enable yourself to do other things, right.

Melanie Avalon: It's so interesting to hear you say that. So, whenever I meet particularly women who are in their 40s, 50s, who are like career women who don't have kids, I always ask them, how do you feel about this decision? It's interesting because I feel like the naysayers are all people typically who do have kids and say that it's something that you will have wanted. But typically, when I talk to women, like career women who chose not to have kids, they're usually like all about it. They're like enjoying. They usually tell me they don't regret that decision.

Mike Rucker: I think to finish on this, all I will say is I am glad to hear that there are groups of people cohorting that are like-minded individuals so that people that do make this personal choice don't feel the weight of all the naysayers coming at them, that they have dissent on both sides, and that they can make an appropriate decision based on real-life facts rather than just conjecture from someone that wants to apply their ideal upon them. And so, it sounds like you're in a good space.

Melanie Avalon: Awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed that conversation. I'm taking up so much of your time. Can we touch one more, big topic?

Mike Rucker: Absolutely.

Melanie Avalon: It's actually the topic, and it's also a little bit controversial, like this topic, but it's the topic you end on and what I love about this topic is you say in the book that you wanted to dedicate more time to it. But I feel like the editors, they weren't really down with this, having a larger part of the book like its own chapter. So, what are your thoughts on death and fun?

Mike Rucker: It's funny you say that because the critical reviews of the book already are because it is pretty rich in science. They're like, "Man, this guy--" I really wanted just a whimsical book that would make me feel good because I have to explain every topic. I think the folks that don't have a slant towards wanting to know the science, I think the editors made the right choice is what I'm saying, because-- [crosstalk]

Melanie Avalon: It's so funny. I loved it though. I was like, yes, I'm all about this.

Mike Rucker: No, the big wake-up call for me when I knew I wanted to write the book was the death of my brother. It gave me this intimate relationship with time. It's clear that near-death experiences or big changes that seem like deaths, like a divorce or maybe losing your dream job, things where you really know that there's a finality to the things that you might have taken for granted become important if you can use them as vehicles to realize. I should be really deliberate about how I spend the rest of my time. There's this interesting concept that I bring up in that chapter that I found fascinating. I imagine you would too. I'm just now going down the rabbit hole. But this idea of terror management theory, which basically suggests that we're wired not to think about our end, if you look at every biological system including our cognition, they're all meant to keep us alive.

And so, anything that poses a risk, even just us thinking about our end, becomes problematic and uncomfortable because as a biological system, everything in our being wants us to stay alive forever even though that's just not possible. And so the idea-- the psychological concept of this is that we sort of have this predisposition not to believe that our life will ever come to an end. But if we're able to do that, if we're able to understand, like, "Okay, this time on earth that I have is finite." Then all of a sudden, we can make decisions leading up to that endpoint that really do fulfill us and we can start to figure out what are milestones that we need to accomplish those goals and then we can walk backwards from there.

And so, there's a whole host of different interventions to become really mindful of this. But I think one of the best ones is some sort of memento mori, which is essentially just an artifact that reminds you that, "Hey, you really should live today for today, because tomorrow is not promised." And so, I love data visualization so just looking at maybe a chart that shows your life in weeks and going, "Oh, my goodness, half of those boxes are now filled, will allow you to have better motivation to make the choices in real time of how you don't want to put off these big things that you want to happen too far into the future because again, the future is going to come up pretty quickly.

Melanie Avalon: I'm so fascinated by this. First of all, just on a personal level, I've always been I don't know if I'm like morbid. I've always had an appreciation of-- I've always been fascinated by the concept of death and would have, like, skull collections. My favorite thing in Paris was, like, going in the Catacombs. Have you been there? To Paris and the Catacombs?

Mike Rucker: I haven't been to the Catacombs yet. I have been to Paris.

Melanie Avalon: That was probably like, if you want a moment of confronting death, it's a very weird experience because you go down and just underneath Paris, there's just miles and miles of tunnels, and it's just skulls, like, making the walls. And some of it is, like, artwork and designs. It's weird because I had this moment of-- it was probably my first time seeing a skull and I saw like thousands and thousands of them. It was really weird to think, "Oh, these were all people." It's a very, very weird experience. But I do think there is some value to that. It's also entering like the fear of death because you talk in the book about how our relationship with death relates to life satisfaction, and you talk about a study where people who were more comfortable with death were higher on the self-actualization scale. I just wonder what that is.

So, for me personally, it's interesting. My sister has a really intense fear of death that she had to deal with different therapy measures. I don't really have a fear of death, but I have an intense fear. I don't know if it's fear of aging, but my whole show and everything I do is kind of about the science of longevity and anti-aging. So, I'm very uncomfortable with the concept of aging, but I actually don't have a death fear. Are those two things different, like the fear of aging versus death?

Mike Rucker: I'm not sure. I don't know exactly in a nonclinical setting how to unpack that. I think in the literature it's okay to be fearful, but it's not acknowledging that it will happen, it is what becomes problematic, because then you think that you have all the time in the world to essentially do whatever you want and that tends to pin you in desires of the self. And so, what was found in this research is that if you understand that, again, your time on earth is that you have a certain amount of time to make an impact, then you can sort of move along that evolutionary track quicker, because you're not just always worried about your own demise. Does that make sense?

Melanie Avalon: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And I guess it has two benefits to it, outward and inward. The inward would be, like you just said, appreciating the moments of your life and not having that crux of having that over-- that fear that you have to deal with and evolve beyond. And then also just appreciating like going back to the memories and reminiscing. The benefits of that are all there with that. I found it really interesting. Was it you keep people who have passed away in your email list or something, so that you see their names?

Mike Rucker: My Christmas list, yeah. I mean it's just another sort of behavioral science nudge, to make sure that I don't forget about them. And so, I think it's a fairly small list, but each one of them, I kind of just think of them in my thoughts, especially because that's a great time to do that in the holidays, think joyful thoughts right and because I feel like that's a way to keep them in my heart and not just, oh, okay, they're not here anymore, let me take them off the list. Just didn't seem right. Yeah.

Melanie Avalon: Got you. Well, maybe to end on a lighter note, one other last thing that you end on is the role of activism and how that relates to fun, like community and making a change in the world. So, I will definitely refer listeners to your book for that. What I really love is that you talk about the science and the importance of kindness, which I just think is so important. So, when you had a whole section on that, I was just like, really happy [laughs] because I just think it's so, so, important and you talk about how kindness and fun can go together.

Mike Rucker: Yeah. I think that's, like, to your point to end on a brighter note, I think that's, again, going back to the hedonic flexibility principle, once you start to really enjoy yourself, you tend to want to give back to others, and then it's renewing. When you have fun through the act of kindness because there's certainly ways to have mischievous fun that damages other people, things like pranks and stuff like that. But once you find this communal source where you're not just lifting up yourself, but you're lifting up others, it really does become infectious. So, again, Paul Zak's work, I'm not sure if you're familiar with that, all the research he's done on Oxytocin, but then just empathy and the fact that once we start to find our joy in the act of service, whatever that looks like for you, then that connection is, that well never runs dry.

And so, then you can just kind of perpetually have fun, not just for yourself, but in this route of uplifting others. And so, it really does become infectious and something that is really sustaining rather than some of these things that are more selfish pleasures that really can be useful tools at time, but are also very episodic and can lead to interesting outcomes if done for the sake of escapism or whatever it is.

Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I love it so much. And actually, I love the last sentence of the book. You just said, "It's chaos, be kind, have fun." And I thought that was just a wonderful way to, I mean, summarize it all up just very simply, though, while touching on the really important parts there. So, thank you so much for all of the work that you're doing. Like I said in the very, very beginning, a while ago now, I just feel like there're so few people actually exploring this topic and the importance of it and the science of it and making it so accessible to everybody. That's something about your book because I read a lot of health and wellness books and I love reading all the books and I do enjoy reading them, but it's really fun to read your book because you get really excited about all the fun that you can have and it's very empowering and uplifting. And like I said, you mentioned a lot of really cool historical characters that exhibited ways of having fun that are super cool and then stories from your own life. So, thank you so much for the work that you're doing. I'm very, very grateful for it.

Mike Rucker: Thank you. I'm really humbled by your words, but I put a big smile on my face, so thank you so much.

Melanie Avalon: The last question that I ask every single guest on this show, and it's a topic that we talked about in this book or sorry in this interview. I just realize more and more each day how important it is. So, what is something that you're grateful for?

Mike Rucker: I'm grateful for the opportunity to spread this message, for sure. I'm grateful for emerging out of the pandemic with two healthy kids and a healthy wife. And I'm happy to have the second sort of semester of my life be a blank canvas to be able to serve others in a way that's going to spread joy and delight. I'm really just in a state of gratitude lately, which is so sorry that it's so expansive and broad of an answer. But yeah, I've just been really feeling the love lately, so thanks for the prompt to share that.

Melanie Avalon: I love it so much and that's the way I feel a lot too. I'm just so grateful. There're just so many amazing things to be grateful for, and maybe it does go back a little bit to what you're talking about, the very beginning with the autonomy because when you feel like you have the ability to do what you want to be doing in the world, to affect the world, that just to me is so satisfying. And I'm so grateful for that opportunity and it sounds like that's how you experience life as well. Are you writing another book?

Mike Rucker: No, I keep getting to ask that question. So, in the book tour, when I got to sit down with all the folks from my hometown, I was asked the same question and you know what I picked up on while on the book tour is this angst of you know how, like, what was it, maybe 8. 10 years ago, Simon Sinek sold us all on us having to know our "why." And I think so many people kind of prescribed to that. But we're asking that in alignment with the people that they were serving. Again, looking at that construct of not having autonomy and not enough people have been asking themselves what are they giving away in that pursuit? There are a lot of people in pain. They're essentially working for other folks without an honest exchange of equity or parity with regards to how much they're giving away.

I mean, going back to you gave it a nod and we didn't dig into it, but how insidious the gig economy is, how many of these big corporations are essentially getting people to work more and they think that they're being more productive, but essentially the value exchanged from that transaction is getting extracted in a way that doesn't serve them. And I think you're seeing that across the board, so understanding how we can realign the balance so that when people are exchanging time for money, it's in a more equitable way and people understand that preserving some time for fun and leisure is as important as we protected sleep after kind of falling victim to giving trophies out for sleep deprivation in the 90s.

Melanie Avalon: That's my soapbox. Yes. [laughs]

Mike Rucker: Yeah. And so, I think that's the awakening we're seeing right now and so doing it in that context, because I think for people that are open to the message, it resonates, like what you shared. And I'm grateful to hear, but so many people are like, "This isn't for me. I just need to work a little bit more." I think maybe a more compelling case of like, "Are you sure that what you're giving away this time for other people? That's taking time away from you? Getting to know your friends and your family and your loved ones or maybe pursuits that are more meaningful to you or things that you just wanted to outside of work?" Can we unpack that and how important that is to know that upfront? So, I share that idea and multiple people stood up and we're like, "I'm here for the revolution." So maybe that's the next topic.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, awesome. So, when you first started saying that, I didn't know if you were going the route of saying that writing a book took a lot of time where you felt like you didn't have your autonomy anymore. But I'm glad it was not the direction it was--

Mike Rucker: No, the book was a labor of love. Yeah. It was certainly something in the living quadrant for me that I fit in the nooks and crannies, but I think illuminating the fact that people aren't asking that question, that most of us, we know our purpose, we know our passion, we know what we're aligned to. But our lives have become so habituated that we don't completely understand what we're giving away when we keep ourselves too busy. Maybe just attacking the same argument from a different angle. It certainly seems like people need a richer understanding of how much damage is being done to them.

It was similar to sleep because it's so insidious, you can go and live an okay life with sleep deprivation for maybe three or six months and then you just fall off a cliff. And that's what's happening now, people aren't enjoying the way they're spending their time, but I think it's a longer road. It's the lagging indicator is stretched out compared to sleep deprivation. And then so, you wake up one or two years later and you're like, "I don't know why I'm burnt out when it's right there in front of you." So, maybe making a more empirical case just for how much damage is being done, because we're not creating a true transition between this exchange of time for money and then things that we actually enjoy doing could make for a compelling book.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, I would. Sign me up. Hopefully, you can come back on the show for that if you do write that, that'd be amazing. So, well, thank you so, so much. I really, really appreciate this and I really value your time. So, thank you for taking all this time to spend here today.

Mike Rucker: No, it's like 2 hours flew by, so I knew I was having fun. [laughs]

Melanie Avalon: Oh, awesome. Yes. Oh, yeah, we didn't even talk about that. Yeah, I just wanted to tell listeners. I know we talked about a lot in the show, but there's so much more in the book that we didn't even remotely touch on. And that's one of the things like time perception and how taking breaks makes things more fun or less fun and we didn't even talk about the [unintelligible [01:47:28] system, which is how to actually make things practically more fun. So, I definitely will refer listeners to your book. What links would you like to put out there for people to follow your work?

Mike Rucker: So, I write about the science of fun at michaelrucker.com and most of the other stuff can be found at the website. So, if you want to check me out, check me out there. And always feel free to reach out. I love conversations. So, anyone that has any questions about this, feel free to find a way to find me, and I'll definitely answer.

Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, thank you so, so much. Enjoy the rest of your day and hopefully, we can talk again in the future.

Mike Rucker: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Melanie Avalon: Thank you.

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