Having Fun the Right Way

For a long time, I’ve had this feeling that I’m not always having fun the right way. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out, because I think a lot of people fall into the same category. Let’s start with the easiest one to talk about: reading. I’ve talked with plenty of people who are apologetic about what they read. This might be because they like to read mysteries or Young Adult books or that they mainly read short stories or magazines or graphic novels.

For whatever the reason, it seems there’s this cultural sense out there that there’s a right sort of way to read, and if we aren’t following that one right way, then we’re doing it wrong. I suppose people have this invisible English teacher in their head, constantly judging their reading choices (or lack thereof). As if people really ought to be reading more Shakespeare or Dickens or Tolstoy. (These days, that might not even be enough. If you’re only reading novels by dead white men, then you still might feel guilt for not reading more books by women or people of color.)

Here’s the thing: if you’re reading to have fun, then there’s no wrong way to do it. Don’t get me wrong: there are certainly books out there that are probably going to challenge you on a more intellectual level than a John Grisham novel, but there’s nothing wrong with reading John Grisham if that’s what you enjoy. There’s a long, storied tradition of people looking down on other people’s reading choices. When Don Quixote first came out, people thought novels in general were just fluff and nonsense. Dickens was very much a popular writer of his time. So was Twain. Tastes come and go. Read what you want to read, because life is too short to read things you think you’re supposed to be reading. (That’s also a very non-fun experience.)

Just earlier this week, I started Anna Karenina, mainly because I’d never read any Tolstoy, and I was ahead on my reading goal, so I thought I might give it a shot. I got fifty pages in and decided I just didn’t want to do it. So I stopped and started The Last Unicorn, instead. I don’t feel guilty about this. I got along just fine for 45 years without reading Tolstoy. I’m pretty sure I’ll get by for the next however long I need. Not all books have to be for all people.

The same is true for other fun activities. I love playing video games, but I’ve felt sometimes that I’m doing it wrong because I don’t beat every game I play, or at least become so good at them that I feel like I’ve mastered them. In the past couple of years, I’ve started Baldur’s Gate 3, Harry Potter, Elden Ring, Final Fantasy VII Remastered, and Diablo IV. Some of those games I’ve played for over 50 hours, but I haven’t beaten any of them. That’s bugged me, especially when I’d start to look at a different game and want to play it, only to tell myself I couldn’t because I hadn’t finished the others yet.

Then I came to the obvious conclusion that I don’t need to finish every game I start. I can play something until I stop enjoying it, and then move on to something else and play that. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. Sometimes I’ve avoided even starting a game, just because I think there’s no way I’ll ever have time to beat it. So what?

The Oscars are this weekend. Guess how many of the nominated movies I’ve actually watched this time? Less than a handful, and (again) that’s been bugging me. I’m a movie fan, or at least that’s how I like to think of myself. What sort of a failure of a movie fan am I if I haven’t even seen the best movies to have come out this year? Instead, I’ve been watching TV series and older films. But once again, I realized that it just doesn’t matter. There is so much media being churned out these days that it would be pretty much impossible to have a full time job and still stay on top of watching all of it, but who says you have to watch it all? Or have to finish a show if you start it?

There’s definitely something to be said for finishing what you’ve started. There are video games that I’ve played all the way through and enjoyed every minute. I finish most books I start, and when it comes to personal projects and responsibilities, I see things through to the end. I’ll be just fine not finishing some things, and I’m officially giving you permission to do the same. Permission not even to start things if you don’t want to.

It seems silly that I even feel the need to have to write that, but I’ve heard too many people apologize for what they’re reading or watching to not bring it up. And if we go beyond just watching, reading, or playing things, the same applies to pretty much any pastime. You’re not getting outside enough. You’re not being social enough. You’re not good enough at whatever-it-is to do it in the first place. (Playing an instrument, writing, acting, playing a sport–you name it.)

Generally speaking, it seems to me people like to focus on the things they do well and enjoy, and then have the tendency to tell other people that they really ought to do the same things. There’s no way we could do all the things that people say we ought to be doing and still be sane.

So don’t worry about having fun the wrong way. Just do the things you like to do, and don’t feel the need to apologize for it. (I’m assuming here that we’re talking about legal, moral things. If you really enjoy beating puppies, please stop.) Life is too short to always be apologizing to that invisible English teacher in your head.

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