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.