Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why Not Just Have Fun?

We recently had an interesting conversation with a colleague (who we would label mostly absurd), who posed the following question: "Why we don't all just have more fun? Why do we all work so hard?"

Obviously we have similar sympathies, but to us the important assumption is that somehow some other activity would be "more" fun. This is something we have discussed in the past--the concept that certain activities being preferable to others is nothing more than a human construct based entirely on genetics and prior experience. (Put simply, we like sex because the genes from ancestors who enjoyed sex are considerably more prevalent than genes from those who didn't.)

But of course, some things are more fun. Aren't they?

As we mentioned in our last post, we have been eating a vegan diet recently, not because it is healthy, but rather because it occurred to us that to do so would be an interesting way to shed part of our identity (our status as a big eater of meat). And it has been an interesting experience. In fact, we find ourselves at least as happy eating this way, and perhaps (for the moment) even more so.

Being "happy," or finding something "fun," is something of a misnomer, as it takes something subjective and tries to make it objective. It is actually quite fascinating how we all do this without realizing it. Consider the vegan example. We, and virtually all of our friends, eat meat. We think vegans are, to be honest, a bit odd. And yet, billions of people (some of whom, we must assume, fit the definition of "happy") eat this way today.

Just about everyone we know has had a similar reaction to our experiment. "Wow - I could never do that." "No meat? Why would you want to do that?" And so on. And to us, that is the appeal of the project. Not the reactions, of course, but our own similar feelings when we first considered it. We knew it was so far outside our comfort zone as to seem ridiculous to those who know us...and that's exactly the point! We assumed that "we" could not be happy eating a vegan diet, but never stopped to consider the absurdity (pun partially intended) of this position. Is there something that makes our dietary preferences "better" than people who don't eat meat? Are "we" different in some way that makes our happiness contingent on eating meat?

The more we get wrapped up in the illusion of the "I," the more we get set in whatever ways we have, the more difficult it is to believe none of it matters. How can I ever die? Look at the reputation I have! As Steve Martin once said, "I'm somebody now!"

To being this full circle...fun is a subjective term, but we have deluded ourselves into believing it is objective. We somehow think our wants and desires are objectively preferable to those of others...even when we are confronted with hard evidence that others are just as happy doing different things.

The bottom line is we agree with our colleague, but differ on implementation (as it were). We do not need things or experiences to provide us with "fun." We are content to simply be here now.


  1. Nice post.

    I find that "fun" is largely a construct imposed by the ol' K-12 system upon unassuming minds . . . *ripe* for learning how to be "good consumers." In other words, young consumers-in-training learn pretty early on that "fun" isn't something that can be cultivated for free by remaining curious about life, engaging in ideas, and such, but rather that "fun" is something which must necessarily be purchased (or, at any rate, must require purchases in order to experience the "fun").


  2. To some extent, "fun" means distraction from the pain of existence and despair at the knowledge of mortality.

    Although without religious belief, it is difficult to find a solid philosophical basis for distinguishing good from evil, I suspect that most readers of this site would agree with me in placing saving lives in the “good fun” category and taking lives in the “bad fun” category.

    Hippocrates, Galen, Roger Bacon, William Harvey, Edward Jenner, Florence Nightingale, Rudolf Virchow, and Louis Pasteur all probably regarded themselves as having fun while they worked on projects that ended up saving many lives.

    On the other hand, monsters such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot probably regarded themselves as having a lot of fun as they murdered millions of people.

    Shakespeare, Mozart, and Rembrandt all probably regarded themselves as having quite a bit of fun as they doodled with their artistic creations.

  3. Work is more of a blessing than most people realize. Happiness research seems to show that work provides more satisfaction than we realize. The things we choose to do instead dont actually bring more happiness, and sometimes bring misery. I know a couple retirees who have isolated and been miserable with their new-found freedom - even thought the can have all the fun they want.


  4. Arthur,

    I think that the research you mentioned reflects more of an individual's inability to enjoy themselves in times of idleness than it reflects the inherent "blessedness" of work. Maybe in societies where hard work is highly valued (i.e. the United States), those people without work feel invaluable.

    Or, it could just be a matter of losing a routine; to be suddenly free from the working routine can be terrifying if one hasn't cultivated any sort of independence from one's working existence. The same principle applies to any sort of life change.

    I'm sure those old folks you mentioned in your post, had they lived a life of idleness, would've been just as alienated and miserable being thrust into a full-time working routine.

    Or, maybe the German's were on to something when they said: "Arbeit macht frei"


  5. When I hear “working”, I imagine scenarios in which someone is doing what someone else is telling them to do instead of applying themselves to produce something they personally feel is worth-while. I work in a state office and nothing I do is of any importance to me in any way whatsoever, but I suppose that when I have free time and I am creating something voluntarily for no monetary gain I am also working, so a distinction should be made. I want a living situation where I can eat a healthy diet and sleep in a bed with a roof over me and do nothing but watch movies, read books, listen to music, sculpt, paint, jam with my buddies, slurp frosty beer, have good conversation, and generally explore the world, (crazy, right?) but it seems like the only way to get there is to be someone else’s butt-boy long enough to get a pension. That or move to Bali and live on alms, which I am very seriously considering. I don’t want fame or fortune, I don’t want any nice things, I don’t want a car, I don’t want to deal with money, but it’s hard to get what you want, even as someone striving for the “absurd” life, without the green. I suppose the real absurd man would be able to coast an office job his whole life and still feel like his life was worthwhile, finding joy every day in his cubicle, soft-spoken co-workers, and occasional bake sales in the break room, but I feel like I need more out of life no matter how much I try to convince myself that it’s “not so bad”.