The three types of fun (and why we need them all)

Fun seems like a pretty easy concept to nail down with a succinct description. defines fun as “something that provides mirth or amusement” or “enjoyment or playfulness”. But like so many things on this Earth, it ain’t always so cut and dry. As any outdoorsperson will have you know, there are three types of fun, and mirth and amusement aren’t necessarily prerequisites. Let’s take a brief wander into the multi-faceted world of fun…

Type 1 Fun:
General Frivolity
Including, but not limited to: Parties, Pow days, Sport Climbing, Ten-Pin Bowling, Sex

This is the quintessential type of fun. Basically, it’s fun while it’s happening. A sunny day of sport cragging or a live gig by your favourite band are great examples of pure, unadulterated good times.

As Jack Torrence wrote with apparent conviction, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. We all need Type 1 in our life or our existence would feel like a chore. It revitalises us, relaxes us, fills us with stoke, energy and fulfilment. Once it’s over, we can return to the grind of everyday life with an injection of anticipation for the next instalment.

But here’s the kicker; Type 1 Fun gets old. It never involves challenge, adversity or tests of will. Without these, we have no potential for growth. Just as with any other stimulant, the brain develops a tolerance to the dopamine rewards associated with repeated exposure and the activity can become stale and unrewarding. What’s more, Type 1 Fun experiences rarely produce good stories and lasting memories. I’ve had more nights of revelry than I’ve had hot dinners, and I fail to recount more than a handful of them with any clarity (intoxicants notwithstanding). The simple fact is that Type 1 Fun is transient. It exists in the moment and fades soon after. Our strongest memories come from our more arduous experiences, which leads me to the next type.

Type 2 Fun:
Retrospective Enjoyment
Including, but not limited to: Mountaineering, Crack climbing, Running, War, Hikes involving extreme length or bad weather, Splitting with your ex-girlfriend/boyfriend

Type 2 Fun is not particularly enjoyable at the time, but rewarding after the fact. A perfect example for me was the heady Talkeetna Traverse expedition in June 2014. The 220km slog involved sketchy terrain, engaging river crossings, helicopter evacuations, despicable weather, hypothermia and punishing amounts of Devil’s Club. It all sounds like hell on toast, but the strange thing is that I wouldn’t change the trip by an iota. I have fond memories of the most remarkable clarity from that excursion.

Type 2 Fun sees us beyond the realms of our comfort zone, outside of which we are able to learn and grow. In overcoming the challenges and obstacles involved, we discover previously untapped reserves of strength and fortitude, develop new skills and become fitter, smarter and more knowledgeable individuals. It sets us up well to appreciate more fully the joys of Type 1 Fun, as there is no dawn without the night. In addition, we have a new campfire story to regale others with. It wasn’t much of a blast when a curious Grizzly poked its head in my tent in the Yukon or when I camped in the desert of No Man’s Land between Chile and Argentina after a failed border crossing, but they sure make for good stories. These are the moments we remember, the moments that define us. Sometimes the gratification is speedy, like a beautiful sunrise after a chilly alpine start. Other times it may take us months or even years to see the positives, though with Type 2 Fun, these benefits will eventually shine through.

However, there is definitely a saturation point with Type 2 Fun. A life of constant misery is appealing to few, save perhaps for certain orders of monks dedicated to such prolonged suffering. Type 2 Fun isn’t often sought, but neither should it be avoided. The means well and truly justify the ends, but there are limits. Where those limits lie is, of course, a matter of a truly personal nature. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained. This is where the magic happens.

Type 3 Fun:
Absolute Misery
Including, but not limited to: Severe injury or death, Totally heinous expeditions that result in complete and utter failure, The second and third movies in the Matrix trilogy, Your OTHER ex-girlfriend/boyfriend (you know the one…)

Type 3 Fun is not fun at the time, nor will it ever be. The experiences that encapsulate the premise of Type 3 Fun represent a net loss for your time and energy invested in the enterprise. You’ll finish these experiences with the ardent desire that they never happened. For me, a particularly brutal Ice Cap expedition in July 2014 summarised the curse of Type 3, characterised as it was by nasty weather, nasty clients and a total and spectacular lack of success in any given objective (this expedition can, and will, be explored more thoroughly in a forthcoming article titled “Why expeditions fail” or something to that effect).

Why would we ever want or need Type 3, I hear you ask. It is said with startling regularity that we learn best from our mistakes. As with any cliché, it has become so by virtue of the inherent and undeniable truth within. Whilst Type 2 and Type 3 often involve learning from errors in judgment, the difference lies in that nature of that learning. Type 2 often involves discovery of positive qualities of a powerful nature, whilst Type 3 gives us negative feedback, teaching us what decisions or circumstances to avoid at all costs.

Just as with the previous types of fun, Type 3 allows us to more thoroughly appreciate the other types. Given the choice, after wallowing in the despair of Type 3, we’d pick some good old Type 2 any day of the week.

Striking the balance

How should we divide our time between the three types of fun? I’d personally recommend something in the range of a 4:3:1 ratio. Of course, we never actively seek Type 3 Fun, but in any given outdoor pursuit, its existence is inevitable. The trick is to reflect, to take stock of what you’ve learned and apply it in the future. The other important tool in the pocket of the outdoorsperson is to develop a healthy tolerance and perhaps even a perverse enjoyment of suffering. Bad weather is inevitable, but bad attitude is a choice. If you approach each apparently grim situation with humility, humour and a happy disposition, things often aren’t as bad as they seem. So when you’re shitting into a plastic bag in a howling Patagonian tempest, just think of how funny that will sound back at the pub. Most of all, be present. Don’t wish away the experience, hoping with futility that the situation will go away. It won’t. Strive, conquer, learn, grow. These are the best times of your life.

Hardcore situations make hardcore folk. Get amongst it.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
Originally published in March 2015

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?