The Serious Pursuit of Fun


Imagine that your main goal in life was to have as much fun as possible. What would your life look like?

I’m asking this question because I reject the idea that the pursuit of fun, in its maximum, would result in a life of non-stop television, fast-food binging or substance abuse.

Instead I’d argue that, even if putting fun as the highest goal wouldn’t lead to the ideal life, there is still a considerable overlap. I want to make the case for two points:

  1. That serious fun requires effort. Giving up all discipline and effort results in a local maxima of fun which is far lower than the maximum possible enjoyment.
  2. That fun supports work-related and nobler goals, rather than distract from them.

Why People Don’t Like to Think About Fun

What if I told you that you weren’t maximally productive. That is, your current behaviors don’t accomplish the most for the time you invest, you probably wouldn’t require much persuading. After all, we all sense our deficiencies when it comes to procrastination or laziness.

But, if I told you that you weren’t getting the most fun, you might require more convincing. Somehow we feel that work is something that can be enhanced by analysis and introspection, but fun is not. Fun is something magical and trying to think about how to have more, destroys the very enjoyment we seek to create.

I’m not going to disagree with you. The act of trying to figure out how to have more fun, when you’re playing a game or socializing, usually makes the activity less fun. Fun is spontaneous, so thinking about it too much can undermine it.

However, while I believe a mindless, go-with-the-flow approach works best in the moment, that same logic doesn’t apply when structuring your life to have more fun.

Serious Fun Requires Sweat

Take travel as an example. You might feel that going on a trip will be more fun than staying at home and playing video games. But, the video games don’t require any advanced planning, whereas the travel might. So if you don’t apply any thought, you’ll end up staying at home.

Look at sports. Sports are a classic example of the frustration barrier. When you are lousy at a sport, it isn’t much fun to play. But as you gain skill, the sport can become almost obsessively interesting. If you didn’t apply the foresight to practice through the frustrating phase, you would never experience the intensely fun phase of mastery.

Being a connoisseur of fun doesn’t mean all your leisure time needs to require years of practice or planning. Instead it means that, as far as having fun is a worthy goal, there are benefits to putting some thought into designing a more entertaining life.

I’d rather live an adventurous life, which has richer fun experiences, than a merely entertaining one, which occupies itself with shallower fun.

Mindless Fun vs Serious Fun

I don’t want to categorize certain activities as always being mindless fun and others as being serious fun. I’m not going to say Shakespeare is inherently better than South Park, simply because I feel those comparisons are so corrupted by people using high art to signal status.

The difference isn’t the activity, it’s the way you pursue it.

Imagine one person watches television for six hours straight, because he has nothing better to do on a Friday night. Compare that to a person who, spends the same six hours watching television, but it’s in the deep appreciation of a favorite story. Reveling in the character details, completely fascinated by the broader themes of the work.

The difference is between being an aficionado and a drone.

Why Serious Fun Supports Serious Work

I don’t believe that fun is the ultimate aim in life. However, I do think it’s useful to think about because I feel fun supports other goals. If you’re saturated in adventures and enjoyment, those experiences enhance the other aspects of your life, rather than detract from them.

I get a lot of emails from people wanting to give up online gaming or partying so they can focus on working more. That’s fine, if in their honest assessment, they’ve decided that there are more satisfying ways to use their spare time.

However, in most cases, I feel people want to abandon these pursuits, not because they’ve found something better to replace it, but because they feel they should. That watching television, playing World of Warcraft or going to a club is working against their bigger goals.

I’ve fallen into this reasoning trap myself. I’ve previously written about giving up television, and while I enjoyed the challenge (I still don’t have a television), I think I pursued the goal for the wrong reasons.

Instead of trying to eliminate all those distracting sources of low productivity, I should have been embracing them. Embracing serious fun.

How Fun Improves Productivity

The truth is, for almost all my goals, if you asked me whether I’m more productive now or years earlier when I had a more obsessive focus on work, I wouldn’t have to think about it. I’m definitely more productive now.

I believe a big reason for this is that seriously pursuing fun, making sure life is as fun as possible, gives you the energy to put back into your more focused pursuits.

Again, however, I want to draw a distinction between mindless fun, which is usually done just to occupy time, and serious fun, which is the conscious effort to make your life as adventurous and entertaining as possible.

Making my life more fun has occurred on many levels:

  • Improving my business, so that the creative work I find incredibly fun is something I can get paid for.
  • Living abroad, so even acts like going to buy groceries are interesting challenges.
  • Building my social network, so I’m connected to other people’s adventures.

Even more, it’s been accepting that the serious pursuit of fun is productive. And that the ideal life not only accomplished but thoroughly enjoyed.

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  • Mark

    I have to admit that my new blog is more fun than I thought it was going to be (probably why I put it off for so long). It is definitely a lot of work, but it is work that interests me. This isn’t my first attempt at blogging. I started a blog on personal finance back in 2008, but it died a quick death. For one thing, I was kind of burned out from my job, but I also did not really feel much passion for the topic.

    For my new blog, I just used my name. While there is a recurring theme (i.e. putting your dream into action), I have the flexibility to write about whatever I want. It’s my blog after all! The other change that I made is that I spend far less time worrying about what others are going to think about a post. Yes, I still hope that people like my posts and my website, but my attitude now is to just go with it and see what happens.

    I think these two changes made a world of difference in determining how much fun I’m having blogging.

  • O2O

    Great post!

    I think you need to find a good balance between what you call serious fun and mindless fun. It’s completely true that serious fun is definitely a must and makes you more productive.

    But some of the most fun things I’ve done have been spontaneous and relatively mindless.

    Too much thought can actually lead to having less fun though. Sometimes it just leads to being uptight and overanalyzing everything in an attempt to have fun in a very formulaic way. It’s good to just let loose every once in a while and go with the flow.

  • Dave

    I’m very pleased that you have also made this discovery as well. I originally undertook several habits/ritual because I believe it was what I “should” do. I believe most people want to work more and loaf around less because western society frowns upon idle time; if you’re idle, then you’re a leach, you’re lazy, you’re a loser etc. I recently started playing a video with a new appreciation in the premise and development efforts of the game. This is coming from a person who shunned all video games as a waste of time just a few months ago. Even though it is less engaging than an excellent piece of writing, I am certainly engaged rather than simply distracted from the rest of life.

    I highly recommend Tom Hodgkinson’s “The Freedom Manifesto.” I certainly don’t agree with everything the man says; he holds a pretty…um…unique perspective on things. However, he has a lot to say in praise of enjoying yourself.

  • Arami

    I believe it is the purity of your fun that will determine one’s individual enjoyment gathered from said activity.

    Fun shouldn’t be a means to an end. Like you said previously, “The difference isn’t the activity, it’s the way you pursue it.” Every step should be embraced, and not just the end result.

    Maybe it is a semantics issue, but I’d rather think of “serious fun” as making active and conscious decisions about many things.

    By viewing “serious fun” as conscious decisions, you can develop new ways to challenge yourself, and in turn discover others who are also on that same path of conscious decision as well.

  • Richard Shelmerdine

    Nice post. I say follow your passion as they all say. Do what you love and abundance will follow.

  • Zen Choices

    Wonderful ideas in your post. In my twenties I was able to travel to Egypt, Scotland, across Europe and many other great places, as well as go skydiving. Sometimes fun does require sweat, but it is well worth it. I also think people can get bogged down in the left-brain culture – both at work and at home. I recently wrote a post about making goals and tasks more fun. Imagine that!

  • Jay Knox

    Love your thinking. We have to chase our dreams to make our life fullfilled and having fun in it all is essential. I just made a little video on the idea, check it out.

  • Jim Greenwood

    Thanks Scott. Happy to see a discussion of fun. Fun is one of the things that gives energy to movement and from a small steps perspectives here’s my two cents.
    Have fun, Jim

  • Kin

    Given the most basic argument/assumption of this post is the significance of the pursuit of serious fun, I want to ask.

    If we make fun also a pursuit, an end to accomplish, is it still fun? Would it become another form of work…which is no longer fun itself?

    Isn’t “serious fun” an oxymoron? Imagine someone tells us, “Guys, let’s be serious, and let’s have fun!”

  • Duff

    Fun is a good thing to have in moderation, but I wouldn’t recommend maximizing it–even the deep kind you mention here.

    Some very important things in life are not much fun at all. I can’t imagine caring for a sick, dying relative being much fun, although perhaps deeply rewarding.

  • Scott Young


    I never claimed fun was the highest value, in fact I specifically dismissed that it was. However, to the extent that fun is a part of life and compatible with other goals, I see no reason not to pursue it wholeheartedly.


    I mention that point specifically. On an activity-level basis, pursuing fun seriously is self-defeating. I don’t do it, and I wouldn’t suggest other people do.

    The difference is at the level of structuring your life so that you have more interesting experiences and adventures. That happens far removed from the actual act. So instead of saying, “C’mon guys, let’s have fun” you’re saying, “should I move to Tokyo or start archery lessons?”


  • Craig Thomas

    Fun is essential imo. Although should probably be balanced I tend to find most things I do fun and therefore I do it regardless.

  • O20


    I completely agree with your point of structuring your life to have more interesting experiences.

    But don’t you think this could possibly lead to downfall by making life extremely rigid? In my opinion, some of the most fun experiences are fun because of the very fact that they are not structured. For example, just going out with your friends and stumbling upon interesting people and exciting adventures.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think structure is necessary. It’s foolish to think you’re going to have a fun and interesting life if you just sit around and say “Let’s have fun.” But at the same time there needs to be a balance. Life should be flexible, not rigid and formulaic.

    -O2O (Ordinary to Outstanding)

  • Scott Young


    By structuring I don’t mean installing tons of behaviors or plans as the means to achieve an adventurous life, I mean simply making decisions ahead of time that make it easier to have fun.

    Choices like where to live, what skills to practice and others don’t need to be with the express plan to have a certain fun experience, but to expose yourself to more opportunities.

    Take my recent move to France. That’s a very structured decision to live in a foreign country, but most the experiences I have of fun here are spontaneous and unstructured.


  • Michal

    Hello Scott,

    Haven’t you thought about making podcast versions of your posts?

  • Scott Young


    Yes, I have. I did one vidcast awhile ago, but perhaps I’ll invest sometime to learning how to do quality video/audio editing for some future posts.


  • Jen

    Great post. Really enjoyed this one.

  • Rob

    Fun requiring effort is spot on (in most cases). I’ve been working on my ‘bucket list’ for some time now (a list of things I want to do before I die. http://burgeoninglist.wordpres… It’s not as morbid as it sounds, honest!). Almost every one of them will, or at least *should* be fun to some extent, but very, very few will come easy to me. The most poignant at the moment has taken me three years, but has provided me with an absolutely amazing time, mixed with masses of hard work and stress, but it’s all been worth it.

    Life isn’t all about Cyrenaic hedonism. It’s more like Mills Higher pleasures or Epicurus’ intellectual pleasures, and these are hard to come by, but once achieved, are worth so much more than the easy-come-easy-go pleasures we chase so often.

    That being said, sometimes a spontaneous burst of pleasure; an orgy of unplanned, unadulterated feasting and adrenaline is hard to beat. Getting that balance right is, I believe, vital to keeping real excitement and vitality in your life and you should be careful not to abandon it completely in the search for these ‘higher’ pleasures.

  • Kara

    Great post!

    I particularly agree with your statement “The difference isn’t the activity, it’s the way you pursue it.”

    It is very important that we find value in our “fun” – in other words, that we actually find it fun, that it has some kind of value to us – not just something that fills our time even though we don’t really care for it.

    I’ve trackbacked to you from my blog…


  • manikanta

    “If you’re saturated in adventures and enjoyment, those experiences enhance the other aspects of your life, rather than detract from them.”