Fun vs Meaningful

You’ve probably heard the saying “time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted.”

Like most sayings, there’s some truth to it. But if you really believe this you’re probably doing yourself a disservice by having a ready-made excuse to wasting time.

And if you’re like me and try to (somewhat) optimize how you spend time, is there a way to determine how to best spend it, and on what activities to spend it on?

The way I’ve begun to think about it is thinking of activities in terms of fun vs meaningful.

Fun

Fun can mean a lot of things, but to me the gist is that you feel good doing whatever you’re doing in the moment and not necessarily after the fact. It’s a short-term, fleeting feeling without many, if at all, future benefits.

An example is drinking alcohol. Drinking is fun; you feel good while you’re drunk and generally the more you drink the more fun you have. But that fun is fleeting, because the day after you’re groggy, hungover, and regretful (How many times have you said “I’m never drinking so much again”?). And how beneficial is drinking? Not very to your body or health. Sure, you might make a friend or two while doing so, but will those be deep relationships you care about?

Meaningful 

Meaningful, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily have that same instantaneous short-term enjoyment that fun can have. Meaningful activities can be fun, but they can also be hard, painstaking work in the moment. The payoff for meaningful activities can also be delayed, but also much more enduring.

An example of a meaningful activity is working out. It’s tough in the moment, and few people enjoy the first few times they start a new workout program. But the after effects of a workout – dopamine, testosterone, improved circulation, confidence – are universal: no one has ever regretted exercising more.

Thinking of activities this way helps you avoid the temptation for instant gratification. Think of “fun” activities like playing video games, partying, going out drinking, vacationing, etc. as the dessert, not the main course. The main course is filled with activities like learning new skills, taking interesting classes, playing on a sports league, contributing to a start-up, etc.

Of course, people are going to read this and still think it’s arrogant to label activities as meaningful or not, or a waste of time or not. They’re missing the point. Of course you’re free to spend your time doing whatever you want. But if you’re trying to convince yourself that watching TV or playing video games in all your free time is not a waste of time you’re likely deluding yourself.

I had to learn this the hard way. As a kid, I used to play a ton of video games – hours and hours every day, sometimes even waking up in the middle of the night to put in more hours. I had a ton of fun playing them in the moment, but when I stopped I’d inevitably have this empty hollow-ness inside me. Did I really just spend 3, 4, 5 hours playing this game? What did I really achieve as a result? What could I have done instead with all that time? 

I didn’t understand the concept of fun vs meaningful back then, but I’m sure that had I known I likely would have spent my time wiser.