The Happiness Project

Make Sure the “Fun” Is Fun for You

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too ! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in—no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you—and vice versa .” This sounds simple, but it actually was a huge breakthrough for me. So many things that other people consider “fun” are not fun for me, and it took me an astonishingly long time to realize that. Drinking alcohol, shopping, most games … I just don’t enjoy those activities.

Even now, I have to remind myself that people go skiing because they honestly want to go skiing, not because they are made from a sterner moral fiber than I.

I’ve realized, too, that it’s important to think about this in the context of my family. If I want to have fun with my family, I need to make sure that we’re doing activities that—at least some of the time—are honestly fun for me . Otherwise, I just get bored and try to end things—or even sneak away. Was it Jerry Seinfeld who said, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family”? Well, I’m trying.

For example, my 4-year-old is constantly begging us to read to her. I was getting so bored with Frog and Toad and the like that I was making excuses.

Then it occurred to me—why not read something I like, too? I don’t have much appreciation for Little Bear anymore, not after the tenth reading, but I love children’s literature. Surely there’s something we can both enjoy.

She’s not ready for The Golden Compass , of course, and she’s not even ready for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH , but first we read the All-of-a-Kind Family books, and now we’re working our way through Mary Poppins . I love those books, and it has made a huge difference in my willingness to read to my daughter. It’s fun for me to read those books, too!

Obviously, as a parent, I can’t follow this rule all the time. My children enjoy things that aren’t much fun for me, so I get my fun vicariously, by watching their fun. But I’ve decided to try to steer our activities more to things that we all find fun, because then I’m so much more enthusiastic.

(Of course, it’s possible to run, then, into the opposite problem: something is so fun for me that being with my children ruins the fun. If I really want to see an exhibit, say, I can’t go with my two children. I just won’t be able to concentrate. But I could go myself, and then return with them.)

One of the great mysteries of happiness is why is it so hard to “Be Gretchen”? Why is it so hard to know my own likes and dislikes? It seems that nothing should be more obvious than the question of what I find fun , yet I have to think hard about this, all the time. (On the subject of fun, here are the three types of fun .)

This principle doesn’t only apply to children; fun with your sweetheart, fun with your family, fun with your friends, fun with your co-workers. Have you found any good ways to have fun with others that’s also fun for you?

* I loved Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, and Jesse Kornbluth (also known as Head Butler ) is a friend, so I can’t wait to read the book that they worked on together: The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together .

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 28,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com . (sorry about that weird format—trying to to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.