Friday, April 09, 2010

Are You Having Fun?

Have you noticed how often that question comes up? When you're at the park or a concert or a museum or a skating rink, parents (or other kids) are frequently asking kids, "So, are you having fun?" Questions like that arise on vacations and other family outings too.

Why do we ask?

If somebody says, "No, this isn't fun," are we going to interrupt our bowling game and take the whole family home because one person isn't having fun? C'mon admit it -- if a kid says he's not having fun at the beach, you're not going to break off your week's vacation, pack up your belongings, and drive home. If he'd have more fun in the hotel with video games than at the beach, are you going to let him hole-up in his own little on-screen world and disconnect from the family, or are you going to stay at the beach and enjoy the sun and the sound of the waves and the smell of the saltwater?

So why do we ask?

I think the frequency of this question in our society encourages us to turn inward. Instead of enjoying (or not enjoying!) experiences, we are evaluating our response to experiences. We can't take an event for what it is, but we focus instead on whether we're having fun with it. I think the pervasiveness of this question leads to depression at holidays, where people are so concerned with how they feel about the enjoyment of their holiday that they cannot just take Thanksgiving or Christmas as it comes, however it comes. Frequently wondering "Am I having fun?" leads us to become fun-junkies, always looking for more excitement and a bigger high; it easily leaves us with disappointment when the new Lego set or the new car or the great vacation doesn't bring endless joy.

You know what? I have a whole lot more fun when I'm not trying to have fun.


  1. Just to add another dimension, this video presents a very interesting talk about the idea of experience versus memory and how it relates to society's obsession with happiness. Very interesting.

  2. Wow, Cate. That's interesting!

  3. I got so sick and tired throughout college and seminary of people asking me if I was having fun (it seemed to be the new "How you doing?") that I just started replying "No" whether I was or not. Usually it made them uncomfortable, because it wasn't what they were expecting me to say, and then they quit asking me that after a while.

  4. This reminds me of a conversation course we worked through as a family (we all have some conversation challenges). The course was Verbal Advantage. And one of the things I found interesting was what it said about small talk. Small talk gets a bad rap. People like to slam it as superficial and meaningless and shallow. But what this course said was that small talk is anything but that. It is a way of expressing interest and concern about someone you may not know well enough to have a deeper conversation with. According to the course, the most significant thing about small talk is not the surface of what you're saying but the subtext. So when we get in the elevator and say something to a stranger about the weather, we aren't really talking about the weather, but we are acknowledging the existence of this stranger that we are about to share an elevator ride with. When we go to church and pass someone in the hallway and say, "How are you" it is true--we may not really be asking for the details of their well-being at that time because we both have places we need to be. But we are acknowledging the other person and greeting them rather than just passing by silently because we don't have time to have a deep and meaningful conversation.

    I wonder if that's what might be going on with the phrase "Are you having fun?" It might not be so much a phrase that carries substantive meaning but simply a manifestation of polite small talk. Maybe the meaning is not so much that we need to have fun at all costs but rather that "I care about you and want to know how you're doing."

    Just a thought! The concept of small talk as introduced in this course has for me put a different slant on people who say things that I might have otherwise taken issue with or even been offended by. Often the message is not in the actual words but in the subtext--they want to say something to be polite and friendly but may not know exactly what to say.

  5. This posting made Issues Etc. Blog of the Week. Congratulations!

  6. Thanks, Robert. Somebody from church let me know on Friday night, and it really freaked me out for a while. :o

    Cheryl, you make a good point about small talk. I don't recall ever doing what Nathan mentioned. I just think it's interesting that we as a society use this question so frequently. I think it's similar to telling a kid "I like the picture you drew" versus "What bright colors!" or "Tell me about what the girl is doing in the picture." It's not that there's anything wrong with "I like your picture" or "Are you having fun?" but so often it helps when the conversation focuses on something besides my feelings.

    Have you ever noticed, for example, what makes you feel better when you're sick or in the hospital? It's not the conversation that begins with "So how are you feeling today?" That needs to be discussed with the doctor, and some of our loved ones need to hear the answers to the question because they care. But the conversation that helps the most is usually the conversation that takes you outside your feelings and your aches and your illness: talking about the ball game tonight, or a movie, or current events (assuming they're not the depressing stuff we hear so much these days), or a joke, or reminiscing about a vacation.

    Maybe I should make a pact with Robert and Nathan, that we will make statements at the family reunion about having fun, but we won't check up on each other's fun-level moment-by-moment. ;-)