Why Fun Isn’t Always “Fun”

By Deane Barker tags: 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 its 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 – -

  • I love my career. Information management and retrieval is my professional passion. So work is fun to me. I would probably even do it for no compensation (I have, in fact). But it’s still my job, and there’s a greater purpose to it. So, this isn’t “fun” like it was when I was a kid.

  • I also love CrossFit. But there’s a greater purpose to that too – I’m 42 now, and staying in shape gets harder and harder every year, so CrossFit is a great way to achieve that end. CrossFit also brings up the point that fun and achievement get mixed up. Whenever I’m doing CrossFit, I’m always thinking about my next PR (personal record). How much faster can I go? How much stronger can I get? (If I would never get in any better shape, or even maintain an existing good physical condition – say I was out of shape, and CrossFit would not change that – then would I still do it? Nope.)

  • I love to read. But there’s accomplishment and greater purpose mixed up there too – I enjoy conquering books (I explained this once), and a lot of what I read has either an direct or indirect relationship to my work. So, again, the line blurs. (Lately I’ve been trying to get through the Harry Potter series. But, even then, I’m looking at it as (1) an accomplishment, and (2) an educational look into a cultural touchstone of the last generation. I’m not reading it for pure enjoyment.)

  • I love to write, but it’s inherently narcissistic. Would I be writing this if there was no chance someone like you would come here to read it? Probably not. I don’t write for the joy of it; rather I write for ulterior motives.

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 enjoy movies. Lately, I’ve been enjoying old movies, and I’ve been a big James Bond fan since I was a kid.

  • I enjoy the theater. Annie and I have season tickets to the local playhouse.  (But this has the ulterior motive of spending time with my wife. Would I still go without Annie? Probably not.)

  • I love cheese. (Seriously: I have a blog about it.)

  • I love driving. This is weird, because it’s not really a hobby. I guess a better description would be that I love to travel long distances by car. Nothing makes me happier than a road trip with the family (I hate most other travel in general).

  • I like Porsches (I’m even president of the local club). But this isn’t really an activity. I have a 911 Carrera, but I don’t really sit around and contemplate it, or even drive it for pleasure – I usually drive it just to get somewhere.

  • I don’t do much cooking, but when Annie has me help out in the kitchen, I really enjoy it.

  • I occasionally enjoy reading thriller fiction, like spy novels. (See all the qualifiers I had to put on there? I can’t just cite “reading” in general, because, as I mentioned, all reading is not the same.)

  • I love architecture. I find unique buildings interesting. (I wanted to be an architect when I was a kid – there’s probably some significance there.)

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.)

This is item #44 in a sequence of 113 items.

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