Happy Vs Fun

A lot of my work is about helping people be happy, sometimes it’s called stress management, sometimes leadership, sometimes resilience. Many people I’d guess would agree that being happy, and hopefully assisting others to be happy, brings meaning to life. Right now, I’m very happy in life, I do the things I teach, which are based on both modern psychological research and wisdom traditions – see below for a list of these – and have had some good luck lately too.

I’m also not that interested in fun. This may seem like a bit of a shocking statement as I believe there is an implicit message in the Western world that fun is the meaning of life and we all entitled to be having fun all the time. This for me is problematic as fun is often the enemy of happiness. Fun – which I’d define as short-term hedonistic pleasure – is presented as an antidote to “work” – the not-fun stuff we “have to” do. For me this framing does not lead to much happiness. A better question than the usual, “how can I minimise work and maximise fun” might simply be, “how can I be happy throughout the week?”.

Ancient Greeks philosophers were very interested in happiness and many associated “the good life” with both happiness and virtuous behaviour – not just pleasure, while other were hedonists. I am a supporter of the former in relation to the modern workplace.

Happiness at Work

The normal story is that work isn’t meant to make you happy but funds stuff that is supposed to make you happy. For me this is a deeply deeply sick consumerist narrative as:

a)  we spend so much time at work we would be miserable half our waking lives

b)  it leads to dehumanisation, low motivation and poor quality work

c)  it trashes our relationships at work and home because of a) and b).

Now an alternative: what if it were the business of workplaces to help employees be happy. Not just to have fun by throwing them the annual Christmas party, dress-down Friday, “cakes Tuesday” or lame teambuilding “jollies”, but to help employees use their strengths, align their work with their values and build meaningful working relationships based upon care and respect. This would not just be good for the employees but good for business due to higher employee engagement, lower-turnover and sickness, etc. Let me be again controversial by stating that a business with no purpose beyond syphoning money from the poor to a rich elite is psychopathic, outdated and no longer needed.

Play vs Fun

Lest I be branded a kill-joy Calvinist I’d also like to say that I’m a big fan of play. Play is our primary way of learning and connecting as human beings, and fun may be a by-product of this. It’s also not the point. A rapist may find what they do “fun”, but it isn’t play and nor will it lead to happiness. This is an extreme and emotive case but one that I hope serves to illustrate the huge potential gulf between fun and happiness. Happiness as I’d define it is connected to our own and other’s well-being. This is what matters as work as well as at home. Let’s stop the insanity of “work” and “fun” and get on with being happy.


List of Things Scientifically Proven to Make People Happy

  • Social support and relationships
  • Meaningful work
  • Autonomy
  • Touch
  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Altruism
  • Nature
  • Mindfulness
  • Not commuting / not working nights
  • Gratitude and forgiveness
  • Using Virtues / Strengths
  • Small wealth differences in your community
  • Flow states

NB: Note how many of these are common in the average office workplace? How many of them are frequent in your working life?


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  1. Wendy Tagg