The prevalence of Alzheimer’s, including my own father’s, led me to think more about what it means to have fun and to enjoy life, topics I have pondered for decades.1
Writing about this topic became considerably more involved than I had first anticipated, so I have divided it into three separate posts:
- Post 1 (today) introduces the component parts of fun and how we perceive them differently.
- Post 2 & 3 develops The Totality of Fun, my theoretical framework on how we perceive and measure fun, its longevity and how a single fun event is distributed over time, beyond the event itself… and how all of this relates to Alzheimer’s and quality of life (or lack thereof).
- Post 4 broadens the discussion from just fun to a more extrapolated, general theory on the extreme importance of memories and imagined futures as mechanisms to connect our past and our future selves to our present self and thus provide self-cohesiveness, a prerequisite for mental well-being.2
OK, enough introductory comments and on with the fun about fun…
Components of Fun
As far as I can tell, there are three components of fun:
Part 1 – Anticipating the fun we expect to have at a specific event in the future
Part 2 – Doing the fun thing in the moment
Part 3 – Remembering & Reminiscing about the fun we once had (either by ourselves or better, with others).
Arguably, Part 1 and Part 3 create more fun than Part 2 – actually doing the fun.3 While at first, this might seem counterintuitive – that having fun in the moment is often less fun than anticipating and remembering the fun from the same activity – I have found this idea resonates with people as intuitively true. At least this is what I have experienced in my own life. And, as I have discussed this concept with others,4 they tend to nod in agreement. But why might this be true?
I’ll bore you with a long elaboration on that in the second post, but first, a story about when I noticed this concept, in high school.5
The Band Trip
Our high school band (Broken Arrow, Oklahoma) took a road trip every other year to march in the Fiesta Bowl parade in Phoenix, AZ. For me, this fell on my senior year (we only had 11th and 12th grades at my high school). As Juniors (11th grade), we were very excited about this highly-anticipated trip,
“Can’t wait until the trip to Phoenix next year! We’re going to have a blast!”.
But we didn’t. Then we did, eventually. And that’s the point of this story, because it illustrates how we experience fun more generally.
Our band was unusually large, especially for the time. If I remember correctly, we took five or six Greyhound buses on this trip. The hotel room assignments in Phoenix planned on four people per room. As usual, there were sign-up sheets taped to the wall in the band room for roommate preferences. Most people rushed to populate these lists before the last corner was taped to the wall, ensuring they roomed with the people they most wanted to hang with while there. For some reason, I didn’t really give this much thought. I guess I was just ambivalent about it.6
Eventually, three other guys and I signed up to room together for the three or four days we would be in Phoenix. It was going to be cool. Not “cool” in the sense that we were all best friends, but “cool” in that we were the last remaining guys who waited to sign up for roommate selections until all the legitimately cool people were already rooming together. We were probably the last four dudes left. Voila. De facto roommates.7 No one would have predicted that particular roommate mix. We didn’t even play the same instruments, but nevertheless, we were really looking forward to the trip.
Band trips have all the natural ingredients for fun. Teenagers far from home. Minimal parental supervision. Long, overnight bus rides. A hotel with a pool and a hot tub. And, copious unplanned time on our hands. How could this not be a recipe for epic fun?
Yet, while there, it felt a little boring. There was much sitting around wondering what we should do next. I think it’s safe to say that we were often having less-than-fun.8 I specifically remember us talking about this in the hotel room.
We said, “Man, this is boring.”.9
And someone turned on the TV.10
Sure, while in Phoenix, a few fun moments and humorous situations registered as small blips on the fun-o-meter,11 but these seemed like little specks of shiny dust amidst the great vacuum of mediocre teenage boredom.
We experienced perhaps half-a-dozen truly “fun” moments during the week we were gone. The total fun might have summed to 100 minutes, at best. That’s not a lot of fun for a teenager for a whole week (less than 1% of the total time we were away). Sounds boring. And it was, at the time.
But then it wasn’t, because…
Months later, as we relived the various events that transpired through our collective “Remember when” conversations, we had a lot to laugh about, by replaying the highlight reel.12
So, within just a few short months, we magically transitioned full-cycle, from “This trip is going to be a blast!” to “This trip is boring.” to “That trip was fun!”. And it was fun… after it was over, and before it happened, and a little bit during. And, it still is now.13
Noticing this peculiarity – that our perception of fun shape-shifts over time – specifically because of this event, I began to theorize about the gap between having fun during an actual event (Part 2 fun) and how we later perceive something as fun (Part 3 fun). It seems we somehow scale the components of fun differently. That is, our current-self and our future-self looking back, appear to use different score cards for measuring fun. Extrapolating this notion backward to include Part 1 fun (anticipation) results in my theory of fun-ness, a concept I will refer to as: The Totality of Fun, discussed in my next post.
So, what might we learn by exploring our perception of fun and how fun manifests itself in our lives? This is where it gets interesting14… for nerds.
To be continued…
P.S. – leave a comment below if this idea resonates with you… that we remember fun differently than we have fun in the moment. Someone please tell me I’m not the only one like this. Don’t leave me hanging.
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- I’d like to note from the outset that I am not an advocate of the view that life should necessarily be fun or that it is about happiness. I don’t believe this is the purpose… and I’m not sure there is Meaning (in the existential sense) in happiness itself. That said, being happy and having fun are enjoyable parts of life and one that I explore here for the simple sake of thinking out loud and because it points us toward something introspective to learn. So, this long footnote exists because I didn’t want my readers to extrapolate my musings further than intended and conclude I was advocating that we should aim to create fun in our lives as a worthwhile life-goal. “To have fun” may be a reason we plan certain activities, but this is not the end game. Happiness is a poor target in which to aim our overarching life vectors. It’s a side show to the main event, which is more about our individual responsibility to serve others with love, in my estimation. But don’t get me wrong the other way either. I enjoy fun and happiness as much as the next person. With proper perspective, fun and happiness are wonderful interludes along the paths we travel. But the gift of life itself is so beautiful (and so serious), it’s simply asking too much of fun or happiness to improve upon life’s pre-existing beauty or to fully alleviate the seriousness of our denial of death. But now I’ve already gone too deep for Part 1 of this series. Part 1 is supposed to be light and fluffy… so back to that part… the fun part.
- Hang with me on this one. It’s not often I have an original thought, and this one is particularly pertinent at this stage in my life.
- Unless you are a kid. To a kid, waiting to unwrap presents under the tree isn’t fun. It’s actually kind of sucky. And cruel. “Here’s something you might really like to play with… but wait little Johnny, not yet. You can’t play with that until next week. Until then, you can look at the package and wonder what it might be. Isn’t this fun? Ha Ha Ha!” Part 1 fun is an acquired taste.
- And by “others”, I mean “my wife and my mom”. Obviously.
- This is the exact event that persuaded me to contemplate the concept of fun somewhat existentially, on and off for the past 30 years, beginning as a teenager. One might say I haven’t made much progress, considering the three decades of thought. But fun is an abstract noun. It’s intangible and perceived, so I needed more life-data to help map the landscape and get my bearings around this topic. And thinking about this wasn’t exactly my full-time job.
- which is what you tell yourself when you’re not cool and no one asks you to room with them.
- For posterity: Dan Sheridan (clarinet), Kyle Nordberg (tuba), Andre Foster (drums) and Andy Jones (trombone).
- Fun is a relative concept, relative to our expectations… and our expectations were high.
- Because that’s how articulate we were.
- Without saying who, two people in our room found the movie starring Bo Derek to be quite interesting, while the other two pretended it wasn’t and tried to sleep. In my naiveté, possibly a consequence of growing up on a farm, I had yet to learn that sleep is optional on school trips.
- Like what [name withheld] did from the hotel window that caused a stir, everyone piling in the hot tub one evening (instigated by me), getting the band director fake-arrested by the sheriff at the theme park and other miscellaneous shenanigans… all fairly innocuous and certainly fun.
- The highlight moments standout and remain in our memories precisely because they were more notably fun than the events immediately surrounding them in time.
- I can imagine it wasn’t a lot of fun for our band directors: Mr. Stout and Mr. Brooks. We probably wore them out.
- Not fun, but interesting.