I solicited some feedback on my Imperfect Happiness Facebook page, and got some great responses from Victoria and Tucker about what constitutes fun. After listing their responses, I’m going to share my experience and highlight some things about me that I think stand in my way of fun. I will do my best to make this neither a list of ways I’m shooting down their ideas nor a whiney, woe-is-me-I’m-such-a-stick-in-the-mud-and-can’t-help-it list. The former isn’t my intention, as I honestly think their suggestions are good ones, I’m just not sure how to apply them to myself. The latter is just boring.
Victoria offered two definitions of fun:
1) “Doing whatever it takes to make your cheeks hurt from smiling the next day.” I like this definition. It’s simple, and I certainly would describe as “fun” experiences that leave my face sore from smiling. Well, except for those social obligations where the smiling is forced. That leaves my face sore but isn’t fun.
2) Getting caught up in a task so thoroughly you lose track of time, also known as “Flow.” This is my favorite type of fun. It’s low-key and solitary. If anyone has suggestions for how to experience flow more often and with children in the mix, I would love to hear them. I wonder, is it possible to experience flow and still get adequate sleep? So far, I’ve not figured out how to do that. The times that I experience flow are after the kids are in bed.
Tucker chimed in with three things that lead to fun. For him, fun involves being able to:
1) “identify a fun opportunity, or the fun in an opportunity.”
2) “release yourself from whatever responsibility or obligation may limit or inhibit the execution of fun.”
3) “open your heart and mind to the moment.” This one I think I can do.
The one of these that gives me the most trouble is Tucker’s #1 about opportunities for fun.
I’m generally pessimistic about “opportunities.” Back before we had kids, when my husband and I used to go to parties, he and I exhibited much different approaches to the potential for fun. I would get to the party, converse for a time with the people there (mostly the people I already knew because I lack the social skills to comfortably insinuate myself into an ongoing conversation), and then decide I’d exhausted all opportunities for fun and that we should cut our losses and leave. My husband, on the other hand, was always certain that even the most boring social gathering could, at a moment’s notice, turn into the most fun he’s ever had. So he would stay for hours (with surly me in tow), never losing hope that the dynamic would shift and we would suddenly be in the middle of a Very Good Time. His optimism was never diminished by the fact the parties never yielded Fun of that magnitude.
In retrospect, I can see that he and I were making the same cost-benefit analysis about each party, but arriving at different conclusions. My husband prefers to risk spending his time doing something that’s not fun if it has the slightest chance of turning into Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School. I prefer the sure-thing, even if that’s a much lower level of fun.
The key problem I have with #1 on Tucker’s list is that I don’t know how to identify opportunities for fun. I generally refrain from trying, but even when I do, I’m not convinced enough that it will be fun to work up any enthusiasm about the opportunity.
I don’t find fun the things that other people seem to find fun. I don’t like eating in public. I don’t like being in large groups of people. I like visiting new places, but I don’t like not knowing where I’m going or flying or not having the foods that I trust available to me or drinking water that tastes funny. I’d rather watch a movie at home than in the theater, I don’t like amusement parks or shopping (except online shopping). Even when I go out with friends and enjoy myself, I end up feeling like they’re having way more fun than I’m feeling and that there must be something wrong with me that I’m not enjoying myself more. Most times, the best I can hope for is that I’m not being a killjoy. In Half Empty, David Rakoff writes about how whenever he goes into an old theater the first thing he does is scan for the fire exits. That’s me. I want an escape route at all times. I choose to sit on the aisle whenever possible.
Maybe I just lack creativity when brainstorming possible fun opportunities. I get stuck thinking about things I don’t find fun and trying to avoid those rather than thinking about things I do find fun.
The one exception is beer fests. I’ve always had fun at beer fests. The people are fun, the beer is yummy and provides an automatic topic of conversation, even with strangers, and I’m less inhibited so I actually talk to strangers (and enjoy it). I have incredibly fond memories of wearing my one-year-old daughter on my back while sampling Pliny the Elder for the first time at the Firkin Festival in Berkeley. Our close relationship with the couple who would become our children’s godparents was cemented during many beer fests in North Carolina. It was stumbling upon a beer fest when we stopped in Salt Lake City on our way to California to live that made SLC seem like a possible place to move when the opportunity arose. Now that I can tolerate neither gluten nor alcohol (and it seems that SLC has lost its sense for what a beer fest is supposed to be anyway), beer fests are no longer an option for fun. *sigh*
Another problem is that the real smile-intensive activities I have are spontaneous. For example, yesterday I discovered that when I say, “Wise guy, eh? Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck!” my son laughs hysterically and hits himself in the face with his little fists. (Just for the record, he has never seen the Three Stooges). Trouble is, I can’t orchestrate things like this. I think the best I can do is to keep a record of these fun things when they come up so that I develop a better ability to recognize them in the moment, as Tucker suggests in his #3.
As I contemplate Tucker’s #2 about responsibility and obligation, I realize that I have some moral thing attached to obligation and fun. I have the feeling that if I’m not addressing a responsibility at the moment, the least I can do is not enjoy myself until it’s done. I find that I automatically reject the idea of releasing myself from responsibility and obligation, especially for the purpose of fun. It would probably do me good to think about this some more and analyze this reaction, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that.
All this is just an extended explanation for why I’d prefer to sidetrack myself from a focus on fun and focus on softness instead. I think that the main thing that stands in my way of enjoying myself is anxiety. If I can decrease my anxiety by not analyzing things so much, then maybe I’ll be better able to have fun.
What’s fun for you? Can you plan fun, or does it just happen to you? If you can plan it, how do you know it will be fun before you do it?