Why Fun Isn’t Always “Fun”

January 01, 2014 Tagged with: life

A friend and I were discussing fun the other day. Specifically, what do we do for fun?  We’re both in our early 40s with young kids (him, 3 and 5; me, 12 and 9).  We were lamenting the fact that we have very few hobbies and don’t really do much for pure fun anymore.

I’ve been thinking that the problem is that “fun” gets adulterated as you get older – the definition gets slippery.  It’s very easy to call activities “fun” when they’re really something else.

When you were a kid, nothing really had a larger point. You existed in the moment, so fun was fun. You did everything just because you liked doing it.  Mindlessness was it’s own reward.

Then, as you get older, you get worries and responsibilities and goals.  You find yourself doing things for a greater purpose than just fun.  They may indeed be pleasurable, but that’s not why you’re doing them.  You’re planning for the future, or trying to accomplish something.

As you grow up, the purity of fun gets sacrificed on the altar of adulthood.

Consider –-

What I’m struggling with is: what do I do, just for fun?  What do I do which has no greater purpose and no struggle for accomplishment attached to it?

I’m reminded of a scene in Cheers after a psychologist accuses Sam Malone of bring obsessed with sex. Rebecca tries to convince him that this isn’t true, but Sam reveals that every hobby she mentions really does have to do with sex (“You love your car!”, “No, it’s just really good for impressing women.”) Finally, after a half-dozen attempts, they come up with the Three Stooges – Sam loves them, but women find them silly.

You can only describe Sam’s feeling in this scene as…relief.  He was worried that he didn’t really own anything. But he owns The Three Stooges. They belong to him for no reason other than that he likes them.  There’s pride in ownership. (“What’s Up Doc”, 1989)

Weirdly, I’m now thinking of another episode of an 80s sitcom, where Alex from Family Ties plays the Russian chess champion. They both decide that the game isn’t fun anymore, so they both try to lose. At the end, they have a conversation about when chess was fun for them, before it got all spoiled by the stress of competition. (“Checkmate”, 1986)

For me, what’s fun for no reason other than being fun is a short list, filled with shades of gray.

I don’t mean for this post to be depressing, but I think there’s a place in every adult’s live for activities that have no greater purpose than to just be ...fun.

We all need to find those activities and do them more.

(Postscript: it’s not lost on me how absurdly lucky I am to be able to sit around and contemplate this. I’ve been blessed, and therefore I have time to lament about the fact that I don’t do anything just for fun.  I’m quite aware how many people around the world don’t have this luxury.)


Ron B says:

Interesting and thought-provoking post, Deane. Let me take a stab at a response.

Fun is defined as “a source of enjoyment, amusement, pleasure or diversion.” It doesn’t suggest that fun is devoid of a higher purpose. Didn’t playing cops and robbers serve the higher purpose of locking up the bad guys? Or, didn’t throwing rocks at a can serve the higher purpose of proving we could simply hit it or hit it more times than our buddy?

Perhaps “kid fun” vs. “adult fun” aren’t that different other than that as adults we have far more options (owning a Porsche, working at a job we like, ordering cheese plates). Can’t finding pleasure and enjoyment in one’s work be defined as fun? Isn’t cooking with your wife, or by yourself, fun if you find enjoyment in it? Might it be that reading Harry Potter qualifies as fun if you find it an amusing diversion in spite of any other ulterior motives you bring to the effort?

The advantage we had as kids was that we were simply free to just be. Our world was our laboratory where we were empowered to do and try a wide variety of things that we thought we might find enjoyable or amusing or a diversion...in other words, fun. We were explorers!

Then we grew up and with adulthood came expectations...lots of expectations. Many of these expectations came from outside our “being”...they were imposed on us by others (parents, spouses, clergy, church, economic situation, family members, etc.) and we tended to adopt many, if not all, of these expectations and the unwritten rules that came with them. One of the most common “rules” is that “Thou shalt always work hard and be productive.”

I’d venture to say that this is when the fun goes missing...when this multitude of expectations and unwritten rules causes us to get caught up in the cycle of doing-so-we-can-have to the extent that we can no longer “be”...when our focus on the higher purpose of all things brushes aside our ability to simply bask in the enjoyment and pleasure of fun. Our authentic self...the one capable of enjoyment, amusement, pleasure and diversions...has yielded to our social self...the one always analyzing our performance and striving to meet expectations... and there is no longer any fun in Mudville.

BUT...there is good news! We can recover our authentic self and put our social self in its proper place. And we can have fun...even as adults.

Ron B says:

P.S. I have to admit I found great enjoyment, amusement, pleasure and diversion, i.e. fun, in replying to your post!

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