The Fun Conundrum and the Passion Paradox

03/16/2015 10:26 am ET | Updated May 15, 2015

There's a difference between joy and fun.


We are constantly being sold the idea that we can derive joy from amusement, and so we are fed endless videos; infinite hours of recorded music; electronic games, so real they begin to supplant reality; pornography that's discreet and free of cost at the touch of a button... movies on demand... relentless buzzing, lights flashing, words projected, products proffered, senses overloaded... all to hypnotize us into buying more amusements that lure us into the notion that we're having fun; and worst of all, that fun is joy.

But fun isn't joy. Just to refresh your memory, compared to true-joy, fun is thin, transient, fleeting, momentary, replaceable, and self-serving. Joy is broad, all-encompassing, deep, lasting, eternal, irreplaceable, generous and often very costly in one sense or another. Hey, I've got no beef with fun, it's wonderful and necessary. But there's a problem when we as a society begin to think of fun and joy as synonymous.

Here's the challenge: Knowing that our joy is bound up in our dedication to the people and things we truly love and that without that dedication we can have no joy, we need to be able to endure the burden that necessarily goes along with that dedication; both as individuals and as a society. That's the nature and the cost of passion. It boils down to: can we stave off the smaller momentary gain for a larger, subsequent one?

We all admire people who have that kind of endurance. A great deal of what we're seeing when we're watching NBA star LeBron James, for example, is the personification of his dedication to basketball. He becomes the human exemplar of endurance itself. It's the same when we're listening to the cellist Yo-Yo Ma or the late-great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson or looking at sculpture by Michelangelo. We are moved of course, by the grace and art we're witnessing, but we're also moved by the enormity of these people's dedication, by their ability to endure. Suffering, misery and woe don't sound like a lot of fun and perhaps they're terms that are too strong. But the larger point is that our utter commitment to our goals is the shortest path to joy, perhaps the only path to real joy.

Joy can also be thought of as the essence of creativity. One simple way to determine if you're acting creatively is to see whether possibilities for positive change have contracted or expanded. In other words, are you seeing a situation or tackling a challenge from the perspective of a Kid-Thinker or a Stuck-Thinker? A Kid-Thinker is acting in the moment, he's not swayed by outside forces or inner turbulence. He's free of negative emotions and free to simply observe things. A Stuck-Thinker is just the opposite. He's trapped in the status quo, and because he's often swayed by his emotions, he can barely imagine how a thing or situation can ever be different from how it appears.

Being an observer requires being in the moment. Getting yourself into that mental state can be learned, and consistently practicing what you've learned is a good way of regaining what many of us lost as we moved from childhood to adolescence.

You can start your practice of staying a Kid-Thinker with fairly easy things. (I'll be covering many more ideas in upcoming blogs) but for example, when someone butts in line ahead of you at the 7 Eleven; try not losing your cool. But be forewarned, you'll have just a second or two to choose whether you want to become upset or not. Your window of volition will be there, but it's very small.

The better you get at maintaining your observer status, that is, watching yourself before you get carried off by your emotions, the more you will be able to: 1.) Remain in control of your decision-making faculties, 2.) Stay in the present, and 3.) Increase your capacity for Kid thinking.