Why Is It Hard to Know What You Find Fun? Why Does It Matter?

How to be happier.
Dec. 31 2009 6:26 AM

Why Is It Hard to Know What You Find Fun? Why Does It Matter?

Why, I often wonder, is it so hard to Be Gretchen and to know what I find fun? I’d think that nothing would be more obvious to me than my own nature, but it’s a constant challenge to be myself.

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Other people have told me that they also find it difficult to identify what they like to do, for work and fun. And I’ve identified one reason for that.

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Scientists, such as Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness, point out that we’re all more alike than we think. And that’s true. But I think it’s also true that we’re all more unalike than we think. (It's one of my Secrets of Adulthood: the opposite of a great truth is also true.)

This is true when it comes to fun (whether fun at leisure or at work). Many people assume that they find something fun because that activity is inherently fun. But nothing is inherently fun.

Examples:
A friend of mine was explaining what she did for work when she first moved to New York City. She sad, "I could only work part-time, so of course I tried to get a job at a florist shop." Why "of course"? It would never occur to me to try to work in a florist shop. I always wanted temping jobs.

My college roommate majored in English, then got a Ph.D. in anthropology. I asked her, "Why didn’t you take any anthropology courses as an undergrad?" She said, "I thought that was the stuff that everyone found interesting. It didn’t occur to me to study it."

A former colleague told me, "If I didn’t have the job I have, I’d love to be a travel agent. But of course, that’s just so fun." I told her, "If I were condemned to perpetual punishment, it would be as a travel agent."

My husband’s former boss, a real wine connoisseur, spent a long time trying to convince me that wine was a fascinating, enjoyable thing to study. I spent a long time trying to convince him that I didn’t really enjoy wine. He simply couldn't believe that a person might not like wine.

It can be easy to overlook our likes and dislikes, or take them for granted, because we assume, "Well, sure, everyone likes video games," "Everyone likes computer programming," "Everyone likes reading and writing," "Everyone likes getting the chance to speak in front of a large group," "Everyone loves music." But that’s not true! The phenomenon of homophily describes our tendency to spend time with people who are similar to us, which reinforces the notion that our likes and dislikes are widely held.

That’s why, if you’re trying to figure out what to do as a job or as a hobby, it helps to ask yourself, "What do I actually do , when I have some free time?" Really examine it. Be honest. Not what you think you should be doing, but what you actually do with yourself, and enjoy, and captures you interest. What's true for you is not true for everyone—and that's significant.

The opposite of a great truth is also true, so this can work in reverse, as well. For a long time, I assumed that no one loved children’s/young adult literature as much as I did . Once I acknowledged what I found fun, and started asking around, I quickly identified many people who shared my passion. So don’t assume that everyone shares your interest, or that no one shares your interest.

How about you? Have you had an insight about what you find fun—or not?

* Happier.com has lots of interesting material. I especially enjoy the discussion of happiness-related research.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 31,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail.com (don't forget the "1"). Just write "newsletter" in the subject line. It’s free.

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