Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be having fun and feeling good, but you’re not and you don’t?
Not only is what you’re doing NOT fun, but there’s the bonus element of suckage resulting from your unmet expectations and ensuing disappointment.
There are countless reasons why something we expected to be good turned out to be bad. Maybe we’re having a fight with our spouse or partner and now the party we attended with them isn’t fun. Maybe we have a chronic injury and the pain we feel on long runs or bike rides sucks the joy out of a previously positive experience. Maybe we’re doing something alone, but we discover that we only feel good or happy when we’re doing it with other people. (Giggity.)
How much I like or don’t like something tends to be influenced heavily by my expectations leading into it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to not hype things up in my head so much, and have discovered many more pleasant surprises along the way as a result. I like pleasant surprises.
But something else has also happened as I’ve gotten older—I’ve had less fun.
I don’t think people want to admit that.
I think we feel guilty and ashamed when we take an honest, no-bullshit assessment of our lives and conclude: I don’t enjoy life as much as I used to.
Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we’re married or in committed relationships and we don’t understand why the most important relationship in our adult lives doesn’t deliver more personal happiness. Maybe we’re afraid to admit to ourselves or anyone else how much of our lives we sacrificed to promise forever to someone else, only to feel much more disappointed than we ever acknowledge.
Shouldn’t my relationship deliver more joy and satisfaction than it does?
Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we have kids and we love them so intensely. Shouldn’t I feel happier and have more fun as a parent than I do?
Maybe we’re embarrassed that no matter how much wealth, real estate, or career advancements we earn, we still sometimes feel a yearning when we’re laying still in the dark with nothing to drown out our most honest inner thoughts.
I’ve achieved and acquired so many things I believed would make me happy, but the truth is, back when I was just a poor kid playing backyard football in a small town no one’s ever heard of, I felt HAPPIER and had MORE FUN than I do now.
And once again, our unmet expectations take a poke at our insides, making the corners of our mouths just a little bit heavier. It’s harder to find our smiles when we find ourselves once again asking: WTF happened to my life? Why do I feel so unfulfilled?
Maybe it’s Just Me
I don’t mean to sound as if I assume your life sucks and that you feel depressed all the time.
I don’t feel depressed all the time.
My life doesn’t suck.
BUT. There’s no question that I don’t have as much fun as I used to.
And that dear friends—I believe—is the answer to the riddle.
Everyone’s Fun Looks Different, So Trust Yourself, Not What Others Say
I can sit for five or six hours in a poker tournament folding 90 percent of my hands and have fun.
My ex-wife thought that sounded dreadful. Even some of my fellow poker enthusiasts can’t stand the idea of folding so many hands. (Bonus Life Tip: That’s how you win poker tournaments—folding the vast majority of the time.)
Some people love crocheting. Or bowling. Or gardening. Or painting tin soldiers. Or reading biographies. Or watercolor painting.
No one can tell you what feels fun. It’s our job to try things and then evaluate as fairly and honestly as possible how pleasurable of an experience each thing was.
In a life where more and more demands are being placed on us from family and career responsibilities, and an increasingly more-connected world also means more distractions, the FIRST things most of us sacrifice to make room for these demands are the things that bring us pleasure.
We are continually being forced to cut out more and more of the things we do simply because we like them. And normally, productivity and accomplishment provides a sense of satisfaction. But almost inevitably, mandatory tasks always start to feel burdensome.
Nothing but divorce has ever depressed me more than the day I realized that I wake up every weekday, drive to work, and do something I wouldn’t necessarily be doing if I didn’t need the income, before going home only to wake up and do the same thing again the following day.
It’s still true right now.
I exchange the vast majority of my (non-sleeping) life for a paycheck.
(This is the depressing part.)
So I can have enough money to stay alive (food, water, clothing, health care), have shelter (mortgage), and afford transportation (car payment).
In a life with a finite amount of time, I question the wisdom in exchanging the majority of my life experiences simply to have a house to sleep in, stuff to store there, and a vehicle to drive me back and forth to the job.
To deal with this, I pursue several other things (including the writing I do here, and the speaking I hope to do in the future) in my limited spare time to have hope that I can wake up every day feeling more fulfilled and as if how I’m spending my time has more purpose and value.
But that’s a personal problem.
What all of us are ultimately pursuing is CONTENTMENT. And some people, who are either super-fortunate to have been born that way, or are models of practicing intentional gratitude, DO actually feel content to live in their homes and their towns and go to work every day.
They are rich in home life. In friends and family (or super-content to be mostly alone and reclusive—and for those wired for that—that’s great too). They are thankful for what they have and aren’t slaves to The Disease of More.
But we don’t have time for platitudes.
We’re not going to tell depressed people to “chin up.”
We’re not going to tell happy people how lucky they are that they don’t suffer as others do.
We’re not going to tell people that they’re wrong because of their likes and dislikes.
In the interest of self-care and supporting those we care about most, it’s critical that we make time to engage in activities that give us life and energy.
It makes us better romantic partners.
It makes us better parents.
It makes us better friends.
It makes us better members of the workforce.
It makes us better human beings.
The Importance of Discovering Our Happy Places
Kids instinctively do their favorite things in whatever moments and environments they’re in, given whatever resources are available.
Children don’t know all of their favorite things because they spend a lifetime discovering them. Some are given a narrow view of the world and limited opportunities because of whatever circumstances they’re born into, and others are introduced to unlimited possibility and have rich life experiences that are the result of substantial financial resources, or resourceful and supportive parents and adult role models.
Some kids are told that they can’t do certain things. Over and over again. Because their parents or siblings or friends or teachers roll their eyes at these childhood dreams and say very adult things like “Well, young lady. That sounds great, but how are you going to make money doing that?”, or “Well, young man. I’m sure you’d make a fine [insert dream-big idea here] but you don’t have the skills, knowledge, money, talent, geography, etc. Maybe you should think of something more realistic like being an assistant restaurant manager, or a third-shift foreman at the local factory.”
Even if you were supported as children, you can still hear and feel all of the naysayers every time you’re vulnerable enough to share an idea that makes you feel alive on the inside.
And then those closest to us tell us we’re silly and impractical, or otherwise leave the impression that we’re not good enough.
Husbands and wives have divorced, and children have gone years without speaking to their parents, for less.
The most fortunate of us can make a sustainable living doing things we love. (I am paid decently, mostly to write things. It’s a miracle, and I STILL complain because I don’t like bosses and rules, and occasionally demonstrate a gratitude problem.)
But often we invest time in activities that don’t pay us back with money. Social clubs. Hobbies. Parties. Travel. Volunteerism. Sports. Art. Whatever.
We do these things because we feel pleasure when we do them.
Sometimes it’s one thing. Sometimes it’s many things. Maybe some people can’t think of ANYTHING (outside of sex, drugs and alcohol) that they do simply for the enjoyment and fulfillment of doing it.
But you must.
And you must encourage your partners and children to do the same.
We place so much value on the acquisition of money and material goods, to the point where adults believe they’re happy when they’ve gotten enough money to buy the thing they’ve spent years believing “When I FINALLY have that magical thing, I’m going to feel successful and happy. THEN, I’ll know I’ve made it,” only to inevitably discover that the feeling is fleeting and then The Disease of More rears its ugly head once again.
I think goals are amazing.
I think wanting things and experiences and money is more than okay. I want them too.
But along the way, we forget to pursue happiness and joy ON the journey.
We forget to have fun. The kind of fun that’s OURS. Maybe other people like it. Maybe they don’t. But we must do things that light that fire of happiness within us.
It’s a feeling.
And the real magic of knowing that feeling is that once we identify it (which is easy as an unfulfilled adult because it feels so radically different from the rest of existence), we can begin to recognize it in other parts of our lives.
With our spouses or romantic partners.
With our children.
With our co-workers.
We begin to recognize the set of conditions that produces that feeling of fun and energy and enthusiasm. The one that makes us feel like the best version of ourselves.
It’s pretty cliché and platitudey for me to offer some bullshit like: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or “Before you can love someone else, you must first love yourself.”
So I’ll leave that to the Instagram quote writers.
But in a life where our relationships with our romantic partners are THE #1 FACTOR in the quality of our life and health, and half of all marriages fail, I don’t think we can afford to ignore the importance of injecting fun into our lives.
It’s NOT selfish to pursue fun if that fun gives you the energy you need to be the best romantic partner and parent possible.
It’s UNSELFISH and important to encourage your partner to take some time to do things they need to do to find their happy place (which may or may not involve dwarf cowboys). If we need to step up and take something off of their plate so that they have the time to pursue THEIR passion, I think we’ll discover incalculable dividends.
Imbalanced and unsteady.
Amidst the chaos Life throws our way, one of the ways we can achieve balance and sure footing is to call timeouts for fun.
Just to be in the moment, or be with the people with whom fun spontaneously happens.
We forget to play.
We confuse acquisition, advancement and long-term goals as the happiness-delivering payoff to justify all the miserable drudgery we subject ourselves to while our most important relationships fail, and we feel ourselves slip further and further away from the US we remember from long ago.
When things just felt better.
When we were happy.
When life was fun.
It can’t and won’t look the same as it did back then. But if we invest less in feeling like failures for our lives looking and feeling differently than our little-kid dreams imagined, and more in simply pouring our minds and hearts into the things that fill our souls?
Maybe our children accidentally learn how to live better by watching us live better, and maybe our marriages and personal relationships thrive.
Because we’re no longer living for tomorrow.
But once again, just like when we were kids, we’re alive today.
46 thoughts on “Don’t Overthink It: To Live Better and Feel Happy, Have More Fun”
I love this post 🙂
Thank you. There are much for useful, practical, specific ideas in this “have fun” sphere that applies to career and personal contentment and advancement that I’m not mentally equipped to tackle off-the-cuff, but I think going through the exercise of identifying the activities, places, people that bring us the most joy in a super-organic way has a ton of applications in life.
I believe we can optimize our mental and emotional health when we’re aware of our state-of-being. I spent most of my life feeling like I couldn’t do anything about how I felt.
I enjoy very much the idea that I can influence and positively affect — accentuate the good, and lessen the bad — in my day-to-day life.
It helps, literally, everything.
You’re welcome and you’re so right! There’s so much we can do to change our mindset which in turn changes our life. <3 I'm a nerd for that kind of stuff.
I needed this post….. thanks (weird how God works that stuff out) (wink)
You’re totally welcome, young lady.
Thank you for this, such a great post. Losing that joyful, easy happiness of youth ( although I had it until I was about 36!) must be part of getting older? I used to be so happy every day with life and I miss being that HAPPY- I haven’t been able to find it again. I’m not sure if it comes out of having to meet grown-up expectations and obligations or just going through the hardships life presents that causes us to lose this, but Just Being Happy (why isn’t it that simple?) again is something I’ve been searching for.
We lose innocence. We acquire more negative experiences and things to be afraid of. We are given more responsibilities which cuts into our ability to JUST BE.
Just being is important.
Doing the things that matter to us and lift us up. They help us reset. Find balance. Gain energy.
I think it’s a fun puzzle to solve.
The science of what makes each one of us happy — then using that to find career and relationship fulfillment and success.
Of course, I might be the only one who nerds out about it this much. Thanks Alisha.
I completely agree with this statement: “It’s UNSELFISH and important to encourage your partner to take some time to do things they need to do to find their happy place.”
The only caveat is that it needs to be a two-way street.
I spent a lot of time taking over chores and childcare so my ex could go out and train for marathons (hence the name of my former blog…) but more often than not, the things I wanted to do were the ones sacrificed if there was a time crunch. Did his needs/wants take precedence all the time? I have to be fair and say no, but it did happen a lot, and I have to say the resentment it caused made me a less than ideal partner and probably contributed to the end of our marriage.
The ideal would be for both partners to be able to explore what makes them happy. Fun begets fun, after all. 🙂
I can relate to your experience as my husband spends his Sunday’s playing golf. Early in our relationship he hired a landscape company to handle the yard work so he didn’t have to do anything on Saturday. As for me, I tended to the chores that usually get done during the weekend. Over the years I would suggest we go do something fun….day trips, a local event, etc…but it was always met with disinterest for varying reasons. Even during the week, something would come up every once in a while that I would have loved for him to attend with me, but again, total lack of interest. The double standard is very real in my marriage and I’m resentful. Have I talked to him? Yes……and nothing comes of it.
I used to refer to myself as a marathon widow, so I get that completely. It’s one of the reasons why son is closer to me than to his father. It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who is busy doing something else.
Right. My marriage consisted of me doing me-things to the detriment of the relationship.
If both people are mindful of how these individual (or mutual) investments in personal interests can help balance relationships, then I think good things happen.
These aren’t ideas the average 21 year old ever thinks to ask. Hard to blame young people for missing these big Life questions.
“But along the way, we forget to pursue happiness and joy ON the journey.”
All well and good Matt. I’ve noticed that I am most often happy when I wasn’t actively pursuing “it”.
Agreed. But I think in general, intentionally having fun puts us in situations where a general sense of happiness will more frequently be the result.
I love your posts, and I love your perspective.
Thank you very much, Rhonda.
I’m fairly certain that “Fun is good.” Dr. Suess quote is from The Cat in the Hat which is apt as, in that story, the cat comes in and tells the moping kids to get off their asses and find some freakin fun. And that’s basically what you’re doing in this post. 🙂
P.S.- I especially like your ideas of taking timeouts for fun and finding fun (or joy, whatevs) on the journey not just at the destination. I’m a big fan of fun in general.
Then get tickets for Greta Van Fleet’s next show near you! Important shit in the fun department.
Thanks for the tip! I hadn’t heard of them but I just looked them up & I just may take your suggestion.
I’ve got tickets to see Milky Chance in October. I’m pretty excited about that. 🙂
Are you taking your own advice? I see they’ll be in Cleveland in August.
I’ll be there!
I probably won’t. Be at the Detroit area show that is; it’s part of a group of concerts so tickets are super expensive. 🙁
I’m a little jealous now.
This is an uncomfortable realization I’ve had recently – NOT having my ex around has made so much more room for fun in my life. A lot of people told me single parenting a special needs child was going to be brutally hard but instead my life is infinitely easier. There is less i have to get done, less stress involved int he doing, and more free time to try new things or just do the things I love. It makes me sad to think about how much time I spent in a relationship that was sucking all the time, energy and happiness out of my life.
Aha, my new phliosophy is to have more fun in life. I recently realised that I don’t actually enjoy things as much as I used to. Thanks for the helpful article and reminder – I’m glad to see I’m not the only one! 🙂
I was just reading your “5 things to do if you feel anxious” post. Hi. Thanks for peeking in and leaving a note.
Thanks very much, Matt. Looking forward to reading more of your great work! 🙂
Me like! I will probably reread this 1000 more times!
Generally speaking,the dynamics of what we considered fun in our twenties changes in our thirties,changes in our forties ,etc….. what should never change is your willingness to seek out what we now consider fun. I used to love to ski in my teens and twenties….2 broken knees later I’m somewhat leery. I used to swim across a small lake in my town ( maybe a mile) but those broken ski knees make it a challenge now and not real fun. But in my 50’s I enjoy so much that was a bore in my younger days. My beautiful Anne and I try new things weekly on our date nights , we are fixing up our house, trying to flea market flip things, we enjoy our intimate moments more and are less inhibited now that the kids have moved out. We , in short,are trying to adapt to realistic ways of having more fun days, more days filled with laughter, more days spent together, more days dreaming and attempting to make some if not all those dreams come true. We’re more connected,more passionate,more fun, more in love…… God bless you all
great post! really needed to read something like this today 🙂
Much truth here as I come in from two hours on deck playing Balderdash with my kids. Nothing else I’d rather be doing ? Husband heard our fun and joined in halfway through. Baby steps 🙂
I’m remembering.. wait, no learning that time for activities that give us joy and energy actually makes us a better person.. to be around. I lost those activities for a while but I’m getting them back and in different, more fulfilling ways. I guess I had to lose, to gain.
Reblogged this on Almost Farmgirl and commented:
I almost deleted this from my inbox, instead of reading it, because this morning my inbox was just one more thing I had to deal with. But the title piqued my interest, and I’m really glad I opened the link. I hope you guys enjoy this as much as I did.
WAIT ONE DAMN MINUTE. You delete MBTTTR posts from your inbox without reading them?!?! [Insert shocked and appalled emoji face here]
Seriously, thank you for taking a minute to check it out, and then share it. I appreciate it very much!
If it makes you feel any better, I usually keep them around until I feel like reading them. But this morning I was pissy and deleting with gusto (because, dammit, if I can control nothing else at least I can control my inbox) and nearly sent your post to the email great beyond along with all the emails from senators who desperately needed my help this morning and emails from vendors who didn’t want me to miss an amazing deal. And yet, they did get deleted and here we are.
There are amazing, inspiring writers out there sending things to my inbox that I very intentionally signed up to receive.
There are deeply personal and important emails from readers spilling their guts in their darkest hours about divorce or troubled relationships, or all kinds of chest-piercing things.
And MANY go unopened.
There are simply not enough hours in a day.
I hope you know I was kidding, and appreciate that you’ve even read just one thing I’ve written, ever. And, I think you’ve read quite a bit, actually, and it means a lot.
I knew you were kidding. ?
Great post, so captivating.
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I read this thanks to “almostfarmgirl” reblogging it. I’m glad she didn’t delete it. And it was just what I needed to read this morning… I am one of those late bloomers who grew up with a mountain of expectation and doing “the right thing”. At 56 it is time to have some fun, dammit!! 😀 I’m following your blog now. Great pondering.
Beautiful. Very inspiring. We can say that just having fun is what makes our life what it is. Not our money or our work, but who we think of ourselves as. Keep up the good stuff man, really good.
I agree with all of it. I admit I just scanned over some because it rambled on a bit too much. (This could also be my limited attention span happening.)Still, I agree. 🙂
Right. Brevity isn’t a strong suit.
needed to read this today… am on a blahhhhh mood…
I have spent the four years since my divorce with fun being my focus. The last ten years of my 23 year marriage were void of fun. I was not only bored and not having fun, I was lonelier than I have ever been. I now live life first and chores come second. My house is far from perfect but I am happier and healthier than I have been in 15 years.
I completely agree with this and specially the bit about encouraging your spouse. I attend performances and film festivals by myself, my husband goes trekking twice a year with a trekking group( though we love similar places for vacation, I don’t have the fitness levels for a tough trek). He loves superhero movies so sometimes i go with him , sometimes I just cry off. Good films we watch together. Both of us love to read which obviously is a solitary activity even if you are in the same room. We love each other’s company and obviously like doing stuff together, but I m really glad that I also have my own resources, hobbies because he is a researcher and absorbed in his work at least part of the weekend , I joke that it’s good that he works a lot so that I don’t feel guilty doing my own stuff, not that he would have stopped me :-D. Housework-time is not that big an issue for us because we don’t have kids, the main constraint is work.
I think it is important to encourage your spouse to be who they are and appreciate their priorities. – unless those are used to continuously shirk some responsibilites or encroach on your spouse’s freedom.
This was also one of the reasons, I used to feel terrified of dating or looking for someone to marry – double income couples(even the ones without kids) in my generation seemed to have no independent LIFE or activities or friends of their own( obviously not advocating that couples spend all their time apart but there is a wide spectrum between spending all your time apart and being Siamese twins). Add to that the usual croakers who talk about how you have to give up all individuality after marriage…well sure, you might have to make lots of career adjustments to live in the same city and often you end up doing things or going places which would not be your preference just because it’s nice to do something for and with the person you like the most, but that’s hardly the same thing as giving up all your individual preferences totally. I have a bunch of diverse interests which I was very invested in but I did NOT want to put it as a criteria that a prospective partner should share all of them- pretty unrealistic. I also have no issues with doing stuff solo. A couple of clingy boyfriends I had at age 20 did NOT help. So when I cautiously agreed to look at dating again at 28, I was not sure I was even suited to marriage and planned on proceeding only with great wariness if at all. It helped to meet other a few couples who also were happy following a similar pattern, at least I wasn’t an alien. One of the things I really liked about my husband is that he told me early on after we started talking that he would need his own space from time to time and would totally respect mine.
I loved this post so much. I’ve come out of broken marriage where for years we insanely competed in who gave up the most fun and “things that gave us life”. I am now allowing “me” to exist and allowing time for all those things (within my financial means). It makes coping with all the stressful and mundane things so much easier.
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