Why We Sabotage Fun

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I’ve been on a tear writing about the importance of fun and how fun gets screwed up. Last time I discussed how people deliberately sabotage fun for others, and now want to discuss how we sabotage fun for ourselves.

Ever meet someone dismally unhappy, and you saw how quickly they put themselves there? You get the idea. You may even be the idea and just haven’t noticed it yet.

So let’s look at how we take the things we love and screw them up for ourselves how we wreck our own fun.

We Do It For Ego

There’s a peculiar habit among people to “enjoy something to death” – we get invested in a book or a game series or a movie and get really into it. We buy the merch. We purchase the posters. We discuss it endlessly. It becomes part of our identity.

Then our ego kicks in. We can’t stand critique. We can’t listen to other opinions. We can’t imagine someone enjoying someone else. Soon our fun is all about our identity as a fan or an enthusiast, and we forget what we enjoyed in the first place.

Plus, because we become so annoying, we drive away other people and only associate with fellow pedants. You enter a Being Annoying Spiral where you associate with fellow annoying people and get your annoyingness reinforced.

You’re probably nodding at this. Trouble is you’re probably saying “oh, I know other people like that.”

We Project On Our Fun

It often seems that when our ego gets tangled up in the things we enjoy, other elements of our lives get projected into it. We see a video game as reflecting our politics. A book series we love validates our views of historical events. An anime series represents an aspiration we have (but won’t admit). Our larger identity can bond with the things we enjoy – and then we’re trapped.

Suddenly a critique of our favorite book feels to be an assault on our very identity. A person who doesn’t want to play a given game due to its content is seen as an attack. We identify so strongly with something fun that we turn it into some Ten Commandments, some unquestionable Holy Grail, only with giant robots and romance subplots.

And, hell, how many times have you seen angry people not only do this but get the core premise of a story or RPG wrong? If you’ve ever seen someone insist “this book means X” despite the book, the analysis, the statements by the author, etc. you know what I mean.

We Try To Make Fun More Than It Is

“Fun” can become a substitute for other things. Yes, it’s a balm, yes it may be part of other things in life – friends, family, career, etc. But it some cases it can become something we pour too much of ourselves into – it becomes a substitute, an escape (of the unhealthy kind), a replacement. You’ve probably met someone who takes certain recreations seriously in the wrong way (as opposed to the right way, a healthy outlet).

What’s strange is this kind of fun eventually becomes a job We dedicate time to a given hobby or outlet so much that it requires serious effort. With time so dedicated, the rest of our life suffers – just like it would from overwork. We’ve made fun into more than it is, and lost everything.

Let fun be fun. I’ve seen people get playfully obsessed with subjects, but never losing their sense of humor.

We Want To Fit In

It’s amazing how often we’re pressured by external forces, or our own thoughts, to give up something we like. We want to fit in. We want to be normal. So we amputate part of who we are and grit our teeth against the pain.

We become a kind of double-bitter from this experience, losing both a thing we love and doing things we hate. We somehow lose twice.

This isn’t to say that you may find certain choices of fun are unhealthy or harmful. It’s possible people pressuring you might have a point – it’s just this phenomena is common enough it’s essential to keep skepticism.

Even if the skepticism is of your own motivations.

By the way, note how this gets manipulated by people trying to sell us entertainment. They pitch the thing everyone is doing, the latest sensation, and so on. That “hot show” may be pitched to cause dissatisfaction.

We’re Told Fun Is Wrong For Who We Are

One of the most insidious things I’ve seen in the areas of “fun” is the idea that everything is segregated by age and gender and so on. Video games are for kids, dolls aren’t for boys (unless they’re action figures), and so on. You have to enjoy the “right” things for you – and the “right” thing may change depending on age, etc.

So once again we’re told to stop having fun and do it the “right” way for the “right person.”

This does get used in marketing, of course, but it’s often used to cause social stigma as well. You can be mocked for “being immature” or “being too serious” or “being girly” or “being a tomboy.” Funny how norms of fun are turned into ways to reinforce strict social roles and traits . . .

Have the kind of fun that really fits you. As I write this, I’m 50, and I’m going to play my damned video games.

We’re Afraid To Waste Time

How many times are we told something fun is a waste of our precious time? That our efforts could be better spent elsewhere? I assume it’s a lot, and in many cases, the critique comes from inside our own heads.

This is a result of a go-go world always focusing on time usage, doing more, buying more, earning more, etc. We’re supposed to be in a constant state of work and effort, and relaxing is for wimps and losers.

Without relaxation, we’ll go crazy. We need fun. We need a break. Fun refreshes us, unleashes us, keeps us from becoming machines.

As an additional note, I think the people driving us as taskmasters ignore that they have their own entertainments, or that they may find their jobs fun. Of course, some of them are just joyless a-holes happy to inflict suffering on others as well.

Stop Sabotaging Your Joy

So, armed with this, and your own insights, don’t destroy your sense of fun. Don’t give up on joy. Don’t sabotage yourself.

Sure, sometimes the things you do for fun may be overdone. You could be a bit too obsessed. Maybe some things you like aren’t good for you, at least in quantity (say, like pizza). My guess is that, with some thought, you’ll make the right decisions (and if not, hopefully, have reliable friends to give you a nudge).

We’ve got enough in life trying to make us unhappy. Don’t be one of the factors making your own life miserable.

Steven Savage