Another reason fun decreases happiness is because fun means an absence of pain. Happiness can only be achieved through pain, effort and expenditure. There is no painless happiness; there is painless fun.
Fundamentally this is the teaching of Pirkei Avos: “l’fum za’ara agra – according to the pains taken is the reward.” If there is no investment, there cannot be a lasting sensation. An adage that reflects a similar idea is: “Things easily acquired are easily lost; those gained without effort are worth what they cost.”
One who will do anything to avoid pain has assured himself, as Dennis Prager correctly asserts, a life without happiness. Raising children, acquiring a doctorate, running a marathon and volunteering for the severely disabled involves pain; consequentially, the gratification is significant.
By way of analogy, I earn my livelihood from being an author. Writing is not fun. At one point in my career, because of various deadlines and financial constraints, I wrote four books in one year. This meant a lot of deprivation, particularly in the realm of sleep. It wasn’t fun, but it provided an unrivaled, lasting sense of satisfaction.
Separating fun from happiness can liberate, regarding (a) time, (b) money and (c) jealousy.
The amount of time hemorrhaged in the pursuit of fun is astounding. One addicted to spectator sports will not suffice with merely watching the game or listening to the pre-game and post-game shows. There will be protracted discussions and symposiums conducted regarding what could have been the outcome, what should have been the outcome and, ultimately, the outcome. And that will all change the next day.
I once tuned into a sports radio network in New York City and heard the most animated discussion I have ever heard in my life. The moderator was entertaining calls from Willie in the Bronx, Larry in Westchester, Cecile in New Jersey, and Mad Dog from Who Knows Where.
Willie welcomed dissenting opinions about the same way the eighteenth century welcomed lepers. Larry’s deep bond with baseball was manifest by his psychotic passion for statistics. Cecile did not speak the way most people speak. She spoke the way opera singers sing, in a voice whose sudden contrivance is matched only by its sudden force. She spoke loud, in a great baritone honk. She spoke insinuatingly and with irony and skepticism and vehemence and a wallop of menace. Mad Dog’s (and it did not take me long to divine how he derived his moniker) ability to concede his failed prediction from yesterday would be like Mussolini admitting he has a shouting problem.
The five of them were debating an issue with more passion and conviction than greeted the ratification of the 13th Amendment. And it wasn’t until I had listened for ten minutes that I discovered that the game under vociferous debate occurred in – 1974!
The same wholesale disregard for time can be displayed regarding the abuse of computer games, Nintendo and pinball machines. The proof is that if one were to be appraised that he or she only had one year left to live, I suspect that the person would invest less time in these avenues of fun. Separate fun from happiness and there is a lot more time at your disposal.
Separating fun from happiness will give more value to your money. Although a new car, dress, furnishings or bottle of whiskey may be fun, it is doubtful it will make one happier.
Internalizing this understanding will mean that there will be more money at your disposal. This is a pragmatic, as much as it is a mussar, argument.
Recognizing that fun cannot provide happiness dispels the folly of being jealous of those who are richer, smarter or seem to be having more fun. As explained, fun is either a drug or an absence of pain and effort. Addicts seek more drugs and the lazy wish to avoid effort. This will not bring happiness.Rabbi Hanoch Teller