July 31st, 2011 10:55 PM by Lehel S.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Last week, I finished reading Edmond Morris' three-volume
biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and while there are many
reasons to recommend it (which I do, highly!), it got me
thinking about how we define fun. Late in his life, TR said
that he had enjoyed "about as much fun as any nine men I
know!" He lived with joy and gusto throughout an amazingly
productive, hard-working life. How did he accomplish so much
and still have time for fun along the way?
I've often written that happiness is one of the most
universal human desires. There is something about happiness
that sums up the best of fulfillment, satisfaction,
achievement and contentment. Everyone wants to be happy.
And a big part of happiness is having fun. On the surface,
fun is just, FUN! Fun is laughter and play, it's pleasure
and relaxation and escape from our daily work. It's about
teasing or games or vacations and watching our favorite
movies or watching our favorite team win a big game. Fun is
We all want to have fun, but on closer examination, it's not
as clear-cut as it seems. In fact, it turns out that how we
define "fun" is a rather important and complicated thing.
We all define fun in different ways, and I suspect our
definition of fun ultimately determines our self-worth and
shapes our success in life. Our definition of "fun" impacts
the goals we achieve and the things we fail to achieve.
This may be unfair, but I want to point to some people I've
never met and use them as examples of unfortunate
definitions of fun. Based on news reports, Charlie Sheen
seems to define it as drugs, alcohol, sex and outrageous
parties. At various times, my impression is that Britney
Spears, Paris Hilton, and Robert Downey, Jr., defined fun as
doing things that have resulted in pain, embarrassment, even
To some degree, we all know about this kind of fun. Who
hasn't done or said something that we hope doesn't come back
to haunt us? At the time, it seemed like "fun." We laughed
about it. We were "letting off steam" or trusting that "what
happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" would turn out to be true.
But does that definition of "fun" lead to long-term
happiness? I suspect not.
Teddy Roosevelt defined fun differently. He thought it was
great fun to write books, run for president, explore new
territory and build the Panama Canal. For him, fun was doing
things most of us would consider work. It turns out, our
definitions are very important!
If we define fun as avoiding "work," and if we combine it
with being silly or acting out, we can predict the long-term
results. In moderation, these things may be harmless but if
they become our primary definition of fun, our pursuit of
pleasure becomes very expensive.
In contrast, TR and I suspect most highly effective people,
define fun differently. In his lifetime, TR was President
for almost two full terms. He built the Panama Canal. He
wrote about 40 books, some of which are still the definitive
works in their field. He explored an unknown river longer
than the Rhine. He wrote hundreds of articles and gave
thousands of speeches. He won the Nobel Peace prize. He
started a third political party. He collected thousands of
zoological and ornithological specimens for the Smithsonian
and other museums. And along the way, he had "more fun than
any nine men I know."
For TR work and fun were indistinguishable. His life was
about productivity, learning, and doing. He made plenty of
mistakes, and some of them were whoppers, but oh! did he
have fun along the way!
The lesson I take from TR is to be very careful about how I
define fun in my life. Like everyone else, I want to be
happy both now and at the end of my life. And, I want to
have tons of fun along the way! For him, fun was about
learning and challenge. It was about building and doing and
making a contribution.
What do you do for fun? I suspect your definition of "fun"