Have Fun That’s Actually Fun—For You.

One of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood is “Just because something is fun for other people doesn’t mean it’s fun for me, and vice versa.” This sounds simple, but it actually was a huge breakthrough for me. So many things that other people consider “fun” are not fun for me, and it took me an astonishingly long time to realize that. Drinking wine, shopping, doing crossword puzzles, cooking, most games…I just don’t enjoy those activities. But reading! Ah, reading is fun for me.

Even now, I have to remind myself that people go skiing because they honestly want to go skiing, not because they are made from a sterner moral fiber than I.

I’ve realized, too, that it’s important to think about this in the context of my family. If I want to have fun with my family, I need to make sure that we’re doing activities that—at least some of the time—are honestly fun for me. Otherwise, I just get bored and try to end things, or even sneak away. Was it Jerry Seinfeld who said, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family?” Well, I’m trying.

For instance, each night I read aloud to my six-year-old, and I’m very careful to choose books that we both like. She loves some books that I just don’t enjoy at all, but if those books are the choice, that reading time becomes a drag instead of a pleasure for me. There are so many books we can both enjoy, so why not make sure that it’s fun for me as well as fun for her?

Obviously, as a parent, I can’t follow this rule all the time. My children enjoy things that aren’t much fun for me, so I get my fun vicariously, by watching their fun. But I’ve decided to try to steer our activities more to things that we all find fun, because then I’m so much more enthusiastic.

We’ve all heard the saying, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” But play, to be play, must truly be fun; the fact that other people find it fun, or I wish I found it fun, or I think I ought to find it fun, doesn’t make it fun for me.

One of the great mysteries of happiness is—why is it so hard to “Be Gretchen”? Why is it so hard to know my own likes and dislikes? It seems that nothing should be more obvious than the question of what I find fun, yet I have to think hard about this, all the time. (On the subject of fun, here are the three types of fun.) In The Luminous Ground, Christopher Alexander remarks, “It is hard, so terribly hard, to please yourself. Far from being the easy thing that it sounds like, it is almost the hardest thing in the world, because we are not always comfortable with that true self that lies deep within us.”

This principle doesn’t only apply to children; fun with your sweetheart, fun with your family, fun with your friends, fun with your co-workers. Have you found any good ways to have fun with others that’s also fun for you? What do you find fun?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* There was an interesting post by Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times about the importance of generosity in marriage, with a quiz to determine, “Do you have a generous relationship?” I love a quiz.

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  • Molly

    “Even now, I have to remind myself that people go skiing because they
    honestly want to go skiing, not because they are made from a sterner
    moral fiber than I.” I love love this line from this blog entry!! I’ve tried to like skiing, too, but just can’t get excited about it. I know exactly how you feel about this one!

  • Lynne

    If she’s 3 you can already start her on simple chores – I promise, she’ll find some things fun – and helping in the kitchen. It’s a great way to spend time together but you’re doing “adult” things. My kids are 3 and 5 and I also don’t love most of the traditional “kids play” stuff (although I can read all day and the only books I hate are ones with bad grammar) and they go crazy when they get to help in the kitchen. Yeah it makes everything take longer but you build that into the plan.

    • At that age, my daughter loved to be part of whatever I was doing, so I accepted a lot of “help” that made things take longer but also made them more fun.

      Travelling on public transport is also great, because you can talk properly (not like in a car) and share what you see out of the window. My daughter could recognize buses from all the local agencies at age 3 (ok, that may have been my fault).

  • AlmostThere

    Tatjanaz2010, Why did it take me 62 years to learn this?? 🙂 I, too, have always been branded “anti-social” or whatever. “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family.” It doesn’t matter who said it first. Gretchen, you have amazing insight for such a young pup. Keep it coming. and Thank you.

  • Azargled

    I agree, fun and enjoyment are subjective things – other people may know their wants and needs but not our ones, we have to take care for ours.