Planning to Enjoy Yourself

For many years, I believed that the very idea of having fun was a foolish notion. I noticed that I often grew bored with activities that are generally considered to be “fun,” and that this was particularly true of passive activities like watching television and going to the movies. I argued that most of the real fun I experienced came from working on projects I cared about.

I reasoned that to make fun itself a goal is both futile and self-deprecating. Surely there is a higher purpose in life than that. I suggested that by setting goals that are “outside yourself” (that have the aim of leaving the world and its population a bit better than you found it), you could have your moral cake and eat it too. In other words, that you could achieve an ethical goal and have fun doing it.

I have made those arguments many times in past ETR articles, and I’m not going to refute them here. But I have to admit that about four weeks ago, I did, in fact, realize that I could be having more fun in my life. And I resolved to do something about it.

What happened was this …

Number Three Son was forlorn about something. K and I were trying to cheer him up.

“Think about all the fun you have each day,” I said.

He made a face.

“Come on now,” I said. “Be honest. In the 16 hours you are awake every day, how many of those would you consider to be fun?”

“Honestly?” he asked. “About two.”

“That seems about right,” I said. “Two hours of fun a day. Yes, that’s seems pretty good to me.”

K was looking at me with pity in her eyes.

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked. “How many hours of fun do you get out of a 16-hour day?”

“Sixteen,” she said.

And I realized she meant it. Sure, she was exaggerating a bit. She does get upset sometimes (like last night when she woke up to find me clipping my toenails in bed). But on an hour-by-hour basis, she is light-years ahead of Number Three Son and me in the happiness game.

“Damn it!” I said. And I promised myself: “From now on I will do nothing … and I mean nothing … unless it is fun and makes me happy.”

That’s how I put it. But I knew very well that happiness doesn’t work that way.

You can achieve almost any objective – fame, fortune, and great health – by setting objectives and pursuing them rationally. But when it comes to happiness, the secret has to do with your mental attitude.

Happiness is both the easiest and hardest goal to accomplish. It doesn’t take intelligence or even an intelligent plan. What it does take is the willpower to avoid negative mental habits and practice good ones.

For me, the negative habits generally have to do with the complications of getting involved in too many businesses and projects. To avoid this, I knew I needed to learn to say “no.” So I resolved that in the future, when faced with yet another one of these situations, I’d ask myself: “Is this going to be fun?” If the answer was, “No, but …”, I wouldn’t listen to the “buts.” I just wouldn’t do it.

I realized that when I got myself into some sort of difficulty, I always had a choice. I could allow myself to get frustrated. Or I could force myself to take on a positive mental attitude and push forward. I knew from my Dale Carnegie years that complaints and self-pity only made bad situations worse. And that just pretending to feel positive about a problem could often lighten my mood.

So that became my two-step plan for happiness: Avoid complicating my life by saying “no” to “UN-FUN” situations. And make unavoidable un-fun situations tolerable by pretending they are fun.

Whenever anyone asks me how I’m doing these days, I say something like, “I’m having fun, because that’s what I do. I’m Mr. Fun!”

And do you know? It’s kind of working!

I’m also doing a pretty good job of avoiding messy situations. I have even heard myself saying, “Gee, I don’t know if I can get involved in that project. It doesn’t sound like much fun.”

Thinking about my two simple rules for happiness, I realize that for K they are deeply ingrained habits. She naturally avoids problematic people, places, and situations. And when she has trouble to deal with, she does so with a positive attitude and without ever complaining.

She does one more thing that we should all do in our business, social, and personal lives. She hardly ever thinks about herself. She is always focused on other people and their concerns.

To help myself stay positive, I’ve added a simple five-minute routine to my morning schedule that you might find useful. After I go over my daily task list and determine the priorities, I spend an extra few minutes looking at each task and asking myself, “How can this be fun?”

This may seem like an odd thing to do – a too-formal approach to having fun. But it really works. I find that I joke more and get upset less, but I continue to make the same positive suggestions and offer the same good ideas.

Let’s say I know that I am going to have lunch with a particularly difficult business partner, I try to figure out some way to make the lunch enjoyable … if not flat-out fun. Usually, that involves changing my attitude about it. For example:

  • Decidingwhat I want from the meeting, but remembering not to care so much if I don’t achieve it.
  • Remindingmyself that my lifetime job isn’t to improve all the difficult people I run into. Telling myself “If I can get this one guy to cooperate with one reasonable goal of mine, that’s enough.”
  • Andto make sure I have fun during the lunch, I promise myself that if he starts to irritate me, I’ll visualize some of his more peculiar crotchets and imagine myself laughing out loud at them. (Trust me. A few minutes of visualization really helps.)

You will probably come up with your own ways to have fun when you have to deal with a difficult person (or situation). But by starting with the question, “How can I make this fun?” you can usually come up with an answer.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]