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Fun Is an Act of Defiance
Observations on how to reach the tipping point where an experience becomes "fun"
“What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” - Eugene Delacroix
Life will never be 100% fun, but any period of time (middle school, giving birth, my current job, my last trip etc) has a tipping point, where the positive emotions can outweigh the negative, where the fun can outweigh the forced or frustrating.
In other words, we don’t have to give up on fun because we can’t change a whole experience.
While my mom was in the hospital, in palliative care, we often ate popsicles and watched Say Yes to the Dress. Was the whole experience fun? Absolutely not. Worst experience of my life. But there were small moments of joy like these that made it bearable.
One of my fondest memories of this awful period is of the time we left the hospital and pushed my mom in a wheelchair down the street (with my brother popping the occasional wheelie) so she could watch Queen Elizabeth drive by. It was ridiculous. I couldn’t have cared less about the Royal Family, but, just like eating popsicles for breakfast and watching marathons of Say Yes to the Dress, having some fun was the only way of being defiant in the face of terminal cancer.
If you couldn’t tell from my last post, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the idea that we haven’t dug enough into what it means to “have fun.”
We hear and say this all the time. It’s an easy saying to reach for when saying goodbye to someone. A polite command to wish them well.
I’m willing to bet that when someone says this to you, you thank them and move on with your day, without giving the command much thought.
What if we gave it more thought? What if we truly tried to have fun? Created a daily fun practice just as we’ve been told to create a daily gratitude practice?
I tried this recently, for a full week at a conference I attended. I wanted to defy the expectations that go along with attending the type of conference where most people are wearing suits.
Normally I’d have stacked my days with meetings, including with people I wasn’t genuinely excited to meet. I’d have pushed myself to go to more events, to make the most of my investment and trip. I’d have tried to talk to as many new people as possible at a happy hour. I’d have pitched my services more directly. I’d have come home completely depleted.
What did I do instead?
I kept a rather open calendar
I only spent time with people who energized me
I went deeper into conversation with fewer people, many of whom I already knew
I came home buzzing with excitement
I reminded myself every spare moment that I was just here to have fun.
I’d say my experiment was rather successful. I had fun! A lot of it in fact. Definitely more than I would have had I not made it my intention. And I found it in some non-obvious places like when I:
turned an awkward hug into an inside joke and secret handshake with a founder I admire
surprised an investor I admire with a birthday card I had signed by several others (note to self: always carry a blank birthday card with you to events!)
had an intense, tear-filled conversation with a woman who is of a different generation
talking to a client of mine about how she is approaching the sex talk with her three teenagers
Not only that, I am sure I did a better job sourcing some potential clients for paid work than I would have if I was having less fun.
Along the way, I learned a few things about how to maximize your chances of having fun:
Fun is an invitation
Kinda like how all those self-help books tell you to love yourself before you can be loved, a law of attraction is at play with fun. You can actively invite it into your life. By reminding yourself to actively look for opportunities to have fun throughout your day, you are more likely to find it.
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
- Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist
Fun is easier to have when you leave your house
Yes I know we are all busy, and sometimes a zoom or facetime is just so much more efficient. But being going outside, to be around actual real humans, greatly increases your chance of having fun.
Not just because it’s easier to form connections with others in person (though it is, and that can be a key contributor to fun for many), but also there’s more to see and hear that might delight you: a wacky outfit, an overheard joke, a new song you love…
“The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing.”
― Isaac Asimov
Fun is made up of small moments of delight
When I ask others about the last time they had fun, their minds typically go to big events (a wedding, a vacation, a party, or in my case, a conference), but fun is really the sum of many small moments within those big events.
An awkward handshake + a lighthearted conversation about sex + bumping into someone I haven’t seen in 10 years + toasting my former boss on the launch of his new company = fun conference.
“There are millions of incredible moments in a day. Even if you lose 1000's, there are 100's of them still left. Make them yours.”
― Hiral Nagda
Fun is more likely when you can find commonality
You don’t need other people to have fun, but they can be a key ingredient, at least some of the time. And it’s way easier to have fun with someone if you feel some sort of connection with them. And it’s easier to feel some sort of connection to them, if you have something in common. To increase your odds of having something in common with anyone you need to accumulate a wide variety of experiences.
In other words, the more you can experience (a breakup, parenting, beekeeping, a cycling tour, living in NYC… whatever!) the more likely it is you will be able to have fun with others.
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Fun requires humility
The same way humility can help us learn from unexpected sources (trees! our children! that which frustrates us, etc etc), it can help us enjoy ourselves in unexpected ways.
Trying to prove your worth or one-up someone is a great way to kill any chance of having fun with someone else. Humility is way more fun than trying to be the best in the room.
“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin
Humility allows us to laugh at how much we don’t know. It also frees us from the burden of trying to act like we are a certain way, making room for experimentation which is inherently playful.
One final observation: it was easier for me to have fun, knowing and trusting that my partner and baby were too. If you’re having trouble having fun, it may be worth investigating who or what is “holding” you back and how you can try to create more freedom for yourself to invite more fun into your life.