Personal Development

16 April Fools’ Day Prank Ideas to Trick the Senses

One of my favorite happiness-project resolutions is to “Celebrate minor holidays,” and one of my favorite minor holidays is April Fools’ Day.

I always try to prank members of my family—in an easy, fun, gentle way. Nothing too upsetting—and nothing very taxing for me to set up.

I’ve turned a carton of milk bright green with food dye, frozen a bowl of cereal, and posted a giant photo of swimming fish inside my daughter’s toilet bowl.

As I write about in my new book Life in Five Senses, last year I used “Gelling Joke” to turn my daughter Eleanor’s beverage into (non-toxic) sludge. Even I was startled by how effective this stuff is!

This year, I was out of ideas, so I asked listeners of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast for their suggestions.

I asked for pranks that made use of the five senses, but as I read people’s answers, I realized that many April Fools’ pranks play on the five senses, by confounding our expectations in some way.

Something doesn’t taste the way we expect, or it doesn’t look the way we expect, or it’s a surprising color, or it pops out unexpectedly…that’s the fun of the prank!

A different kind of prank is by surprising someone with (false) information.

Once, on a family spring-break trip, I told my young daughters that they couldn’t use the pool, because it had to be drained for some reason. They were so disappointed, but tried to be so reasonable about it! I broke down and told them the truth right away. Now I prefer sensory pranks.

Here are some of my favorites ideas from listeners, which are all of the sensory kind:

  • Turn every piece of clothing in the drawers and closet inside out. Bonus hack: A year later, you can identify and donate any unworn, still inside-out clothes.
  • Eat dessert before dinner.
  • Cut out many of the letter “E” from brown paper, put them in a pan covered in foil, and offer your family or coworkers some delicious “brown-Es.”
  • A classic: short-sheeting.
  • Hide card stock between the frosting and cookie of an Oreo.
  • Save packages from the mail and place a huge stack of empty boxes outside the front door, to make your family think you’ve gone on a giant spree.
  • On the toilet-paper roll, draw a spider with a Sharpie or glue a plastic spider, so that it will pop out whenever someone pulls the paper.
  • Switch bags of cereal into different boxes, so that when a family member pours out their favorite cereal, the wrong kind lands in their bowl.
  • Put googly eyes on things all around the house. [This is my very favorite idea!]
  • Put a drop of food coloring in the bottom of a glass, so that when a beverage is poured in, it magically turns into another color. [Food dye is a great tool for the April Fools’ trickster.]
  • Swap vanilla frosting for toothpaste.
  • Shape Starbursts into “baby carrots.”
  • Fill a cardboard box with dirt and decorate it like a cake.
  • Substitute sugar for salt or vice versa, swap mayonnaise for pudding, or use shaving cream in place of whipped cream.
  • Swap items in a homemade school lunch with wrapped wood blocks or fake food (but don’t forget to include lunch money).
  • Breakfast for dinner, or dinner for breakfast.

For more ideas, take a look:

I love these kind of fun, easy traditions. They build happiness because they mark the passage of time in a special way, they’re memorable, they’re light-hearted, and they contribute to a sense of group identity. The things that go wrong often make the best memories—even if those things are intentionally “wrong.”

And anything that makes us laugh is good!

What are some of your favorite April Fools’ Day pranks—either ones that you’ve played on others, or that others have played on you?

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