Past Midway Ramblings on Business & Life

The Totality of Fun

This is the second installment in a four-post series.1

In my last post, I introduced the three component parts of fun:

Part 1 – Anticipating the fun

Part 2 – Doing the fun

Part 3 – Remembering & Reminiscing about the fun

…and promised next a discussion about The Totality of Fun, which follows, with numerous digressions (and regressions) along the way. In other words, this one is a bit bumpy. See if you can follow my thought-thread even though I detour frequently.

The Totality of Fun (Tf)

When something is fun, it has both a Magnitude (Mf) and a Duration (Df). The combination of these two variables provides a proxy for the total fun for a specific event. The Totality of Fun (Tf) is therefore the total area from each blip of fun attributed to this one event, illustrated in the graph below, which depicts a single fun event as it manifests itself over a lifetime.2

In the graph, I have color-coded fun into its three component parts.

The Totality of Fun

What follows is a more detailed discussion of each component part of fun – out of order, beginning with Part 2 Fun. That’s this post. My next post will elaborate on Part 1 and Part 3 fun (so The Totality of Fun concept is broken into two posts).

Part 2 Fun

The tall red spike is the Part 2 Fun for this hypothetical event – doing the fun thing in the moment.

Plotted over the scale of an entire life, this fun event looks like a single tall spike, but magnified, the event may have multiple highlights and smaller peak-fun moments within it. This might represent a fun event much like my previously mentioned band trip. However, Part 2 Fun might also be a single short instance – high Magnitude (Mf), short Duration (Df).

Drawing that red line caused me to pause and to consider what fun moments this might represent in my own life. In doing so, I realized I have been fortunate in that I have had a lot of fun thus far, although I’m uncertain as to why. In replaying and reviewing these times from memory, some events naturally rise to the top. A top 10 list of sorts. But one moment stands out above all the others. It’s such an outlier, that it would need its own category. I’m thinking of a single moment in time where I have never laughed better, felt more comfortable nor experienced more joy.

My Most Fun Moment – A Short Detour for a Personal Story

The first time I was hanging out with Ann-Sofie Lundin, we ended the evening playing ping-pong upstairs at my parents’ house in Houston. At one point, I tried to slam the ball to score, but the ball missed the table completely and instead, hit Sofie squarely on the forehead, making a crisp “thap!” sound. Fortunately, she laughed. Then, making eye contact, we both laughed, contagiously… so hard we doubled over. And in that moment, I began to fall in love.

Curiously, the most fun moment of my life also instigated the most sensitive, gut-wrenching, weighty time of loneliness for me as well.3 And ultimately took me on a longer journey of joy, contentment and gratitude.

An Aside, off the Detour

This story4 is well beyond the scope of this post – some of the bumpy part – but I thought I should give more color to the last paragraph.

In short, only weeks after we met, I was back in Tulsa finishing my last year of undergraduate studies (while Sofie remained in Houston). Four months later, Sofie moved back home to Sweden, as dictated by her visa. This left us with a season of relational ambiguity. Where might this relationship go, given the literal ocean between us? Would this budding relationship succumb to the natural forces of time and distance that slowly pry people apart, or might we carefully nurture deeper taproots from our burgeoning seedling of a relationship, despite the obstacles of distance, culture and language? This is when I learned…

Love with uncertainty of outcome is painful.

…the degree of pain being directly proportional to the magnitude of love.

The emotional weightiness arises from the mind’s war-gaming, playing out potential scenarios, one of which is an end-game where the relationship simply ends. This null scenario is what adds gravity to the mass of the relationship.

To this day, my worst occasionally-recurring nightmare places me back in time to a younger self, to learn that Sofie has regrettably decided not to marry me. Given the enormity of the decision, I trust that she has fully thought it out. I completely understand her position and simply resign to the fate of letting her go.5

In this dream, all the potential beauty I have somehow already experienced cannot will itself into existence to become the reality I know now as my life. I cry in this dream. Every time. Mourning the disparity between the knowledge of what-could-have-been and what-might-now-be.

I’m equally relieved when I awaken to find that she did choose me, and we are still whole. In an instant, the solid foundation of my actual past swoops under me again and steadies my emotional footing. This dream serves to remind me of the depth of my love for her.

All that to say, there was a season of not knowing if marriage would be the eventual outcome. Such binary scenarios. One representing Order. The other Chaos. As we often do when things are difficult, I grew through this season of emergent uncertainty that risked rendering life too tragic too early.

But alas, she did marry me (nearly 25 years ago), and it has been the most wonderful part of my life. This, I’m sure, serves to enhance the fun-ness of our ping-pong moment, in retrospect… even though it was extremely fun at the time, there’s likely some Part 3 fun influencing my memory of this event.

End Aside – back to the Detour

Your Most Fun Moment – Detour Continued

I wonder if you also have a “most fun” moment or perhaps a handful of times that constitute your top 10 list? Pause a moment to think about the most fun events across your life. I’ll wait…

If you’re like me, you didn’t stop to think about this. You just kept reading. Fair enough.

But if you pondered it, you likely had brief memories flash before you. For younger readers, it’s like swiping right on your iPad through a seemingly endless stream of picture memories. For readers my age, it’s more like rummaging through the small drawers of the card catalog index at the library. Pull out a random drawer and thumb through places and faces, Dewey-decimal style.6 In either case, some memories probably surfaced that were completely unrelated to “fun” as you flipped through your mental memory index.

You also might be surprised how difficult it is to think of many fun events by simply asking yourself “What has been fun?”. Fun memories somehow need to be jostled lose, teased out by association. That is, I don’t think we necessarily have a “fun” category by which we index our memory-base. Instead, we index by event type. Fun-memory jostling requires a prompt. Like if I say “Hiking”,7 you may recall some excursions, some were even fun, but you might not have considered this event without the prompt. I might have suggested camping, a road trip, a pool-party or even a classroom. Each of these prompts might surface a memory for which you have a fun story, now recalled with ease.

If you settled on a few top fun memories, why these? Was it more related to what you were doing or who you were with?

*** End Detour ***

Back to the Graph and Discussing Part 2 Fun…

The magnified section on the graph shows the fun event, with the time-axis stretched to better illustrate the real-time ebb and flow of fun within the event itself. For this example, the magnified area shows six really fun things that happened over the course of this one fun event, during the Part 2 Fun. The rest of the event was only moderately fun, but soon forgotten because it wasn’t “stand-out” fun.

Part 2 Fun can be super-fun, relative to the average existence surrounding it, so the magnitude Mf is really high for this red spike, but it’s short-lived… because we can’t just go around in a constant state of ultimate fun. Partly because it might lead to financial peril, partly because we can’t just run around falling in love all the time8 and partly because it would, paradoxically, cease to be fun. An event must sufficiently differentiate itself from its surroundings to be fun. In other words,

If everything is fun, nothing is fun.

So, it would seem that fun is relative in three ways:

1) In time, compared to surrounding events immediately before and shortly thereafter;

We record Fun in our mental highlight reel if it is sufficiently contrasted to the events surrounding it. Specifically, we compare potential fun things to everything that has come before and maybe to a few things that come immediately after.9

2) By comparison to our perception of the fun others are having around us10

This explains a certain element of social anxiety some people feel when they are bombarded with a steady stream of Part 2 peak-fun via social media. This barrage of Part 2 Fun allows us to see the highlight reel of all our social connections nearly simultaneously. In a sense, this is the master highlight reel of our entire social circle, mastered from the best individual highlight reels of friends and acquaintances.

If we are in a comparative mindset, it can be disconcerting to see everyone else having such fun, relative to the view we might have of our own lives at that moment.11 It is here where young people especially must remind themselves that perception is not reality, especially on social media.12

3) To our expectations of anticipated fun.

Strangely, Part 2 Fun can be different from what we expected to happen and even different from what we remember happening.13 Some events turn out to be more fun than expected. They surprise us on the upside. For some reason, an upside surprise is usually perceived as enjoyable. Meanwhile, other events leave us disappointed because they fell short of our higher expectations.14

In all cases,

fun is a comparative experience that only seems to manifest itself in contrasts.

Compared to recent events. Compared to how we view the lives of others. Compared to our expectations.15

Not everything needs to be fun, nor should it be. Some of my greatest, most treasured memories were not fun at all. In fact, some of my most profound memories are heartbreaking and tragic. That said, Fun is the specific lens through which I am developing the discussion with this series. It could have just as easily been loneliness or sadness or intimacy. Those would have been more introspective discussions, but less fun (except maybe the last one).16 Besides, I was originally contemplating the notion of Fun in particular and how it relates to Alzheimer’s. That part coming in my next post.

Today was about Part 2 Fun (at least it was supposed to be, but the other ramblings might have obscured this point). So, to recap, Part 2 Fun is all about the enjoyment we experience in the moment of a specific fun event. Part 2 Fun is often high in Magnitude but short in Duration. Because the Duration is brief (and it must be or the Fun ceases), the area under the curve of Part 2 Fun is minimal, constrained by time. Part 2 Fun’s contribution to the Totality of Fun is therefore perhaps less than expected.

My next post will discuss of Part 1 and Part 3 Fun. To be continued…

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  1. I previously pitched this as a 3-post series, but it just grew too long. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
  2. Skip reading this footnote… because nobody cares and I should have deleted it. You’ve been warned. Note: Fun also has a Type attribute, because there are different types of fun. Sometimes fun is funny and we laugh, like when we hear a good joke or when something ironic happens. Sometimes fun is terrifying, like a roller coaster ride. Sometimes fun is quiet and introspective when we read a good book. Sometimes fun is difficult because it involves a strenuous hike or bike ride. Sometimes fun is social and sometimes it’s solitude. You get the idea. Fun things can be fun in different ways. I’m going to set the Fun Type concept aside for the purposes of this series because even different types of fun have a Magnitude and a Duration. Therefore, when I discuss the Totality of Fun, it is somewhat indifferent to the Type. Although, since we each have preferred types of fun, this can influence both the Magnitude and Duration. That is, the Fun Type is a contributor to the metrics of fun (Mf & Df), but that’s a technicality. Now you know why you should have skipped this footnote.
  3. It’s interesting how the height of fun can so easily lead to strong, opposite emotions. Coincidental? Or must opposing forces pair like that?
  4. which was originally a really long footnote, until I thought wiser about putting my wife in a footnote.
  5. because love does that too.
  6. Ask your parents.
  7. Brad Kallenberger and I got completely lost hiking in Colorado one time. That was fun too, but probably mostly Part 3 fun, I suspect.
  8. especially if we are already married.
  9. It’s interesting that the future can change our perceptions of the past. If you have a relatively boring week and then have a lot of fun sharing a large ice cream sundae with your friends at an amusement park, you might be inclined to record this event as fun. In fact, it was a blast! But then you ride the roller coaster. The one that twists and goes upside down. It turns out, eating the ice cream (and perhaps the funnel cake too) wasn’t nearly as fun as you initially thought. Your perception of the past has been revised. This is almost a true story.
  10. “perception” being the key word here.
  11. Especially because, in that moment, we are likely just laying around surfing the infinite scroll.
  12. Behind every picture of Part 2 Fun posted online are hours and hours of normal life. Further, underlying many pictures portraying Part 2 Fun is a false narrative. That is, the picture is often disingenuous. Few pictures depict us having the most fun because we are too busy laughing. Even the act of taking a picture of fun feels like a forced reenactment. Consequently, when we see pictures of people having fun, it may not in fact be the case. The evidence of this is obvious if you observe a group of teenagers taking selfies, laughing and smiling as a group for a split second. Snap. Then all serious again as they look down, completely ignoring each other, to tap out a post to their individual streams for their followers to see what great fun they are having. It’s quite peculiar to observe this behavior in the wild. It’s also not limited to teenagers. It’s just that they perfected it first.
  13. Memory recall is not an exact video playback with perfect rendering (at least mine isn’t). It is also not a reliable true-to-event recollection. Memory recall is more like a string of snap-shots or sketches burned into our brain wrapped in a text-based narrative. Much like on the hard drive of our computer, text-based stories require very little memory. Pictures require considerably more memory, especially at higher resolution. Video requires enormous amounts of memory and is seldom a storage mechanism used by our brains. Brains are efficient organs and strive to conserve space. This explains why we must discard less-than-memorable events in life, which is much of life, as it turns out. For some events, we burn a text-based story into our memory, or perhaps a picture with a narrow field of view. Maybe for super important or impactful events, we maintain a low-resolution video. But as I recall my own memories, I cannot replay a single video, only snap-shot pictures and text-based conceptual stories. Maybe others differ on this point… maybe everyone else has video playback capabilities and I’m just short on hard drive capacity.
  14. I’m not advocating that we should lower our expectations. I know people who adhere to this theory, so they won’t be disappointed. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but the logic doesn’t ring with a pure tone somehow.
  15. This last point is super-important and foreshadows the overall direction for this series. But that comes later.
  16. I also thought that it would be interesting to delve into more serious topics through the lens of the opposite, fun.


  • I’m not sure the phrase “hitting on a girl” was ever so literal, Andy. Poor Ann-Sofie…

    Good stuff. Looking forward to how it all ties into the third part and dealing with memory debilitating situations like Alzheimer’s.

  • Oh, my. This article has my head spinning! It’s classic Andy, & yet, it’s more revealing than even I, as his mom, have ever had the privilege of being heralded into (don’t know where that descriptive term actually came from). I remember Andy’s first “date” with Sofie. It was supposed to be a simple walk in the neighborhood. He came in late, & at breakfast the following morning, he had such a smitten look on his face, I knew he was already a goner (is that an allowed descriptive term?). I also knew he was headed toward uncharted waters & my heart ached for him. How very fortunate we as a family have been that the two of them didn’t allow an ocean or very strong family ties in both sides stop them from continuing their love journey. I credit Sofie for the fact that we are being given these blogs which I am probably enjoying more than anyone else. And, I can hardly wait for the 1 & 3 parts of fun.

  • So, I did pause to recall my most fun moments… I guess I’m a rule follower.

    I think you are exactly right to say that fun is a comparative experience.

    During this quick contemplation, I recalled a quiet early morning holding my firstborn after a long late night delivery. I should have been sleeping, but I was having too much fun holding him and doing so many things for the first time. Yes, I even enjoyed changing his tiny diaper. In that moment, the pressure was gone – no strangers in the room, no fear of a medical emergency and no more waiting. My husband was close by, but he was literally passed out in a semi sitting position. I was in a cozy safe cocoon. And then my father walked into the hospital room straight from the airport. He didn’t say much. He just joined me in the moment. It was then that I saw my father in a different light. I realized that I was now a parent too and that is an all together different kind of love. In that moment, I understood his magnitude of love for me.

    In my estimation, appreciating fun requires the dichotomy of fear or uncertainty. By understanding how precious life is, we are more apt to seek joy and find fun.

  • Fun may be comparative, but more figurative I believe. For in reliving a moment we often exaggerate the emotion, the actions, or intensity to entertain ourselves or others. This then would suggest that the fun is not fun but just a specific moment and then after reliving it, like your band trip, is a new fun. It’s the base fun, to which a new chapter of fun is established on top.

    I also enjoyed the changing of the font to go along with your wanderings and detours. Nice artistic touch.

By Andy Jones
Past Midway Ramblings on Business & Life

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