Last weekend, when I was taking a wilderness survival course, I encountered a concept I had never heard before, that there isn't just one kind of fun, but three. It came out of a story of his own wildness survival situation that our instructor was telling us about. He had flown out to Alaska with a group of friends to go ski touring in the untamed backcountry. After one day of amazing skiing, a blizzard rolled in. They got snowed in and were stuck in one place, unable to go anywhere. Fortunately, they had all the supplies they needed and their location was known to people in the outside world, so they stayed where they were so they could be found by rescue crews. They waited and waited. After 7 days, they figured that the rescue couldn't get there due to unsafe conditions, so they had to muster up the will to forge a way through the snow and get back to civilization. After our instructor was done sharing his story, I felt compelled to ask, "I know that was probably a very stressful situation, but was there any fun in it at all, or was it just terrible?"
To this he replied: "Well, there are 3 different types of fun... that was experience was type 3."
The 3 Different Types of Fun Defined
Each type of fun has its own character and place in the unravelling of our life stories. Here is the breakdown of each one.
Type 1 - "In the Moment"
The first type of fun is the one we are most familiar with, the one we usually strive to have in our lives, the one most people actually think of as fun. This kind of fun is the fun we experience in the moment when we are doing something and enjoying that experience as we are doing it. There are lots of examples of this in daily life: eating a delicious meal, having an engaging conversation with friends, playing a game or doing an activity we enjoy, having really good sex, etc. We feel good in the moment and satisfied with the experience after we're done, but in the days and weeks to come, unless it was something particularly unique or special in some way, the memory often fades over time.
Type 2 - "In Retrospect"
Type 2 fun is not something that's thought of as fun in the moment of doing it. It's usually something we're choosing to do because we see some future value in it but the experience of it as we're doing it isn't overtly fun, and may even be uncomfortable or stressful. Some examples of this include: a hard strength training workout, a stressful project at work that pushes you to stretch your abilities to complete, a martial arts belt test, a prolonged power outage, weather challenges on a camping trip, etc. We appreciate type 2 fun experiences because they are ones that made us physically, mentally or emotionally stronger, taught us a new skill, increased our confidence or resilience, bonded us with others who shared in it, etc.
Even though these experiences aren't necessarily fun in the moment, we often look back on them fondly or think of them as fun in retrospect because we associate those experiences with the positive things they brought to our lives. Sometimes that appreciation come right after the experience is done. Sometimes, it takes a few days before we settle down and see the type 2 fun in something that was more challenging. As we become more familiar with the concept of type 2 fun, we may even come to actually start having fun in the moment of it because we know that we are growing as a result of it and start to make that connection of through positive association even though we are facing adversity of some sort.
A type 2 fun experience that comes to my mind from recent memory was an overnight backpacking trip last year that went wrong. We were supposed to go to the Stein Valley, but it turned out the ferry wasn't running due to high water so we ended up changing our plan and going to the HBC trail, which was relatively close by. The problem was that the weather for that trail was completely different. It was cold and the rain constant, unlike the Stein where it was warm and sunny. We didn't have the layers and gear needed for the cold, wet weather so we soaked through as we hiked and got chilled to the bone. We got to the point where we were so cold we didn't think we could get warm without going to a warm dry place so we had to abandon the trip. We were cold, miserable and disappointed that we didn't get to complete our trip. But once we were off the trail, warmed up, dried off and eating a delicious, high-calorie meal at a diner, we started to appreciate the adversity. The feeling of being warm, comfortable and sated at the diner contrasted with how we felt on the trail made us appreciate the type 2 fun we had just endured together.
Type 3 - "In Distant Memory"
Type 3 is definitely not fun at the time of the experience. In fact, it is usually downright awful. It is usually some sort of extreme situation that you would never consciously go out to try and experience, the sort of thing that when you tell someone about it, they usually reply, "Oh my god, that's terrible!" It may even be something traumatic. As such, it takes time before someone looks back on it and thinks of it as fun, months, sometimes years. We may carry some baggage that we associate with the experience, and until we are able to unpack it, we won't experience it as type 3 fun. These are things like our instructor's Alaskan wilderness survival tale. Other examples could include: an unexpected brush with death, losing everything you own in a fire or weather disaster, getting a serious injury doing an extreme sport, etc.
You might look at this list and ask, "How can you possibly look at anything of these things as fun?" Sometimes people will never look back and see type 3 fun. If they never unpack the baggage, type 3 fun will always be out of reach. But those of us who do will be richly rewarded. Type 3 fun experiences are the ones that have the potential for the greatest levels of personal growth. They are the experiences that teach you the greatest life lessons. They are the ones that create lifelong bonds with those with whom you shared the experiences. The stories that come from type 3 fun experiences are the ones you'll tell your friends, your children, your grandchildren and those people will probably even re-tell the story in certain contexts. They are the experiences that you'll remember when you're old and grey. You'll look back on them at the end of your life and think to yourself, "Yeah, I did that," smiling fondly in appreciation at what you were able to endure, and how much you grew from it.
As I wrote this, I tried to think of a type 3 fun experience of my own. I thought of a few that just seemed terrible, perhaps indicating that I still have a little unpacking to do before they can be type 3 fun. There are another couple that are just a little too personal to share on a blog. But then I remembered that I did indeed have a type 3 experience, the story of which I tell and re-tell to friends who are into camping and the outdoors. It's a long story, so I'll save it for next week.
Now over to you. Let's all start using this "3 types of fun" concept to enrich our own story-telling. Have you got any great stories that are quintessential type 2 or even 3 stories that you're willing to share. I would absolutely love to hear them, so please feel free to share them at length in the comments. I am a firm believer that story-telling is an important part of the human experience, allowing to learn and grow far beyond what we could from the experience of our own individual lives.