“All that matters is that you are having fun.” The mantra that began the dissolution of a civilization.
How often do our children hear a variety of this phrase? “Just have fun!,” says the coach to a group of dejected players losing during halftime, or the art teacher as she examines the sub-par work of a student. Rather than speak difficult truths regarding mediocre performance, we go to the safer instruction, “Have fun!” It has become so ingrained in our psyche that the words are automatic, like a rote prayer. “Did you have fun at school?” “Mom, what are we doing fun today?” This constant striving for fun – will not serve our children well in the short or long-term.
“Are you having fun?” The problem is, the answer to the question is so often no. Simply instructing children to “have fun” does not make it so. Children cannot have fun on command. A kid losing at soccer is unlikely to find the experience fun – unless he doesn’t care about soccer anyway. The child who realizes, through direct comparison, that his artwork is mediocre, is too aware of his own inadequacy to have fun. Does the lack of fun now make the pursuit of soccer and art pointless? Perhaps we should point them to a higher goal. Considering we want our children to be capable of doing difficult things, and difficult things are rarely fun – we need to give them a measurement capable of satisfaction.
Since parents are frequently calling their children’s attention to the supreme value of “having fun”, we cannot be surprised when they have an insatiable desire for it. Recently after a long day at an amusement park, my daughter walked in from the car, plopped herself on the sofa and said, “Mom, I’m bored!” Fun becomes a drug, children require more and more exhilarating experiences to feel satisfied. Because we fear our children’s unhappiness, our kids are not allowed to become bored long enough to create their own “fun”; the burden then falls to parents, teachers, and society to provide the sufficient amount of enjoyment.
This trend of “fun-seeking”, instilled in children, continues into adulthood. The pursuit of self-fulfillment has overtaken all other values in the lives of young people. A recent poll by the Wall Street Journal* shows that values have shifted dramatically in younger generations. Patriotism, religion, and having children, previously seen by the majority as core values, are seen as unimportant pursuits by the majority of young people. The value of self-fulfillment, however, has sharply increased compared to older generations. The sad reality is that, as Vikor Frankl said, “It is the very pursuit of happiness, that thwarts happiness.” This truth is unfortunately confirmed in our modern “fun-seeking”generations. Mental health issues, loneliness, and drug addiction are increasing concurrently with the decreasing influence of self-moderating values. **
Are we inadvertently creating young adults dissatisfied with life by giving them a standard no one can achieve? A fun-filled life is not only rare, it is unsustainable and ultimately meaningless. As parents we are prioritizing the pursuit of something that is not only impossible, but destructive and shallow.
In the end it comes back to the age old question – What is the purpose of life? Increasingly the purpose is seen as the pursuit of “self-fulfillment.” This mentality is at the root of almost every social problem we see facing us today. If our goal in life is our own momentary happiness then all other values become insignificant. People and responsibilities are prioritized according to the enjoyment to be gained from them. Children are seen as a financial loss or hamper on freedom, marriage as a barrier to sexual fulfillment, religious morality is simply a means of bringing guilt and duty into an otherwise carefree life. But a world filled with independent selfish entities does not fill our innate need for connection and meaning. According to a recent survey, nine out of ten young Brits believe their life lacks purpose.
If we believe the purpose of life is deeper than fun – if we see it instead as a quest for personal and societal progression, then we need to change the way we speak to our children. If we want the next generation to seek meaning, then we need to actively question our children’s progress rather than their enjoyment. Rather than ask, “Did you have fun?”, perhaps we should ask, “Did you learn anything?” “What did you contribute?” “What did you create?”. We should teach our children to use “progress” as the judge an activity’s worthiness. If knowledge or experience was gained or shared then it was a worthy endeavor. As our children begin to see the world not as a place they can get enjoyment from, but a place they can add value to, they will see purpose where before there was none. With this shift in our children’s perception, we may be surprised by how often fun will be the by-product.
A great blog post for parents on de-prioritizing fun, for the greater goal of progression. http://brookeromney.com/2014/01/why-we-are-taking-the-fun-out-of-life/
*American’s Have Shifted Dramatically https://www.wsj.com/articles/americans-have-shifted-dramatically-on-what-values-matter-most-11566738001/
*** Brits life lacks purpose https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/9637619/young-brits-life-lacks-purpose
A previous related post from Philosophy of Motherhod on how this fun-filled mentality transfers to parenthood https://philosophyofmotherhood.com/2019/02/22/happiness-is-destroying-parenthood/