Is it ‘just’ for fun?

“Just for fun” is really different from “for fun.”  The “just” suggests that we don’t have much regard for fun.

We use it on ourselves and we use it on kids.  We start teaching kids early in their lives that things that are just for fun are less important than the ones that are for something else.  Fun, we have come to imagine, is somehow in opposition to progress and productivity, so we’re careful to disabuse children of the notion that the pursuit of fun should be their central aim. (As kids get older, we continue this thread by distinguishing for them between things that are educational and things that are not.  Games and other pursuits that we’ve deemed educational get more adult respect and support than those that are just for fun.)

The work of researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi over the past five decades suggests that what children are pursuing when they’re fun-seeking (which is often much of the time) has a lot in common with what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow – a condition that seems to be present in the happiest, healthiest adults.  These adults are not the ne’er do wells you may imagine, having a great time but getting nothing done.  They’re people who have sought out – in their work and in the rest of their lives – an experience of connection with what they’re doing that helps them stay energized and productive.  They might well describe their jobs as fun.

We can learn so much by watching what fun looks like on children.  By noticing what they call fun; what they seem to think of as fun.  By noticing the difference between things they do for fun when they’re trying to avoid other things and things they pick up for their own sake and seem rejuvenated by.  We can get all sorts of hints and clues as to where kids’ sources of flow may lie, and thus what pursuits may ultimately serve them best.

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