One young member of my Sunday school class this past weekend wanted to be sure it was absolutely clear to me that she would rather not be in class. “I wanted sooooo much to stay home but my parents made me come to church today,” she whined during the early part of the class when the kids are encouraged to share their joys and concerns.
“What would you be doing right now if they’d let you stay home?” I asked.
I think she thought it was a trick question, that I was trying to trip her up somehow, but I wasn’t. I don’t know this particular child very well. If she had gotten her wish to stay home, she’d probably be having more fun, and I was curious to know what fun for her looked like.
I was thinking about this already because I’ve been reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which also talks about the importance of being able to define your own sources of fun. When Rubin posed the question on her blog about what people find fun, what I found most telling was what some people identified as not fun: games with their children that involved toys (though these same parents liked other activities with their kids, just not playing with toys), going to parties.
As Rubin’s readers articulated, sometimes things we associate with fun because of their general reputations, such as toys and parties, turn out not to be, or just aren’t to our tastes. Going too far in the direction of labeling different activities as “fun” or “not fun” can be unnecessarily limiting: assuming you don’t like parties could mean never going to another party, and there’s always the chance that the occasional one will turn out to be pretty worthwhile. At the same time, knowing what makes you happy can be both self-affirming and practical: self-affirming because it helps confirm in your own mind who it is that you are, and practical because it helps you put your time to good use rather than squandering it.
When my children were really young, time to myself was so rare that sometimes when the kids were gone for several hours at a time, I’d almost literally find myself walking in circles, not knowing what to do with the gift of free time I’d been handed. Although these days I have plenty of time to myself at home, I felt a little bit the same way last Friday when I went up to Portland, Maine, to help my father with an errand and found myself with two free hours to spend there all by myself. I’d been to Portland several times before, but always with the kids. Being there alone – and on a mild sunny spring day, no less – left me almost overwhelmed by the choices.
Should I go for a powerwalk by the harbor? Try on clothes at one of the artsy boutiques on Middle Street? Sip coffee and read magazines at a café with a waterfront view? Watch the boats come and go from the dock outside the condo balcony? I tried hard to pin myself down on my definition of fun so as to make the best possible use of my brief but precious stint of time.
In the end, I used my two hours well. Powerwalking didn’t happen, but the shopping, strolling, coffee and reading all did. I was glad I’d identified those ahead of time as things I was likely to find fun.
Of course, it’s important not to limit yourself. There are always new forms of fun yet to be discovered. But as I tried to tell my Sunday school class, knowing what really makes you happy is part of knowing who you are. And it’s a good feeling when you can zoom in on just what it is that you find to be fun.