Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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The problem with fun

Published: 18 Mar 2013

There is a problem with having fun. Fun has a hidden cost. A cost that people think they can handle or may never acknowledge. This cost creeps up, compounding and can really bring havoc. It just lurks, waiting to explode and disrupt your life.

We shouldn’t not have fun. In fact, I fully support having fun. But just like practicing a skill, having fun should be very deliberate. Unlike a skill, though, the dangers of not being mindful of our fun can be harmful. In any moment we haphazardly pursue fun, we are putting off important things in our life.

The shoulds and the musts that are, intentionally or not, discarded in our search for fun add up. In the aimless pursuit to alleviate boredom, we’re cheating ourselves of our greatest moments. We don’t have to, though.

This past year has been an exercise to change my perception of fun. I think I have more fun now than I previously did. I’m more deliberate and more careful. I used to just think, ”I’m bored, let me do the thing that made me un-bored last time.” Usually I was just as bored, but doing something that should have been fun. It wasn’t, then I felt empty and lazy.

Choosing fun is always easy

It’s hard to turn down an activity that we think of as fun. Even if we’re asked about it and don’t find it fun at the time. For example, in Flow people report low levels of enjoyment while watching TV. However if you ask people if they would have fun watching TV, they say yes.

In these experiences, we’re delaying what matters for the purposes of trying to rekindle a previously enjoyed experience. We can’t. We’re putting off what matters now by what once mattered then.

Often times this delay catches up to us when it’s far too late for us to truly be happy. More importantly it comes up when it’s far too late for us to catch our life’s meaning. Whether it’s involvement with family, starting a business or simply finding inner-peace.

Choosing fun over happiness is the most efficient way to sabotage life. It’s not a battle of tug-of-war. Happiness and fun are not competing, unless we make them.

Fun + Happiness = Meaning

If fun is perceived as a partner to happiness, we attach meaning and purpose to our activities. Instead of merely being fun, they are also meaningful and enriching. This takes a great amount of deliberation and practice. It also means getting rid of things once thought of as “fun”.

Right now I feel I have a ton of fun in my life. I also have a great deal of happiness and a feeling of joy. Most days I wake up doing exactly what I want to be doing. I have worked to prune the things I thought were fun away, and deliberately choose my activities based on what the real rewards are.

This conscious effort takes a few minutes, but is really a powerful tool. It’s just a habit I’ve been working on to ask myself a simple question whenever I happen to remember it.

Am I having fun now? If so, am I also happy?

Sometimes I’m not happy. That’s ok. I may have fun playing a video game but I’m not happy. Again, that’s ok. I just need to keep sampling my feelings. Once I’m bored (which usually takes very few minutes), quit and move on to something else. We need to take a moment to breathe, and fun activities without meaning do have meaning once we correctly identify them.

But now I find myself answering the second question more often in the affirmative. Yes! I am teaching my children skills that will open their eyes to the world. I’m figuring out some complex piece of software, or new design, and I’m having fun doing it!

That is happiness and fun. These are moments I seek out each and every day. Just like I can’t always find happiness in the fun activities I do, sometimes the activities that bring happiness just aren’t fun. I’m happy to have a house that I love, but it isn’t fun to repair it.

Unfortunately happiness is harder to find than fun. It’s up to me to create happiness in what I do.

Unless I master creating happiness, I will never master creating meaning.