Four Types of Fun

Is it fun in the moment or when you reflect later? Or neither?

Apparently there are three types of fun:

Type One Fun: is fun while it is happening - aka “simple” fun.

Type Two Fun: is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect - consider 2x Rugby World Cup winning All Black captain (and to many the GOAT) Richie McCaw, who when asked if what he did was “fun” said “no, but it’s satisfying”.1

Type Three Fun: is not fun at all, not even in retrospect - the canonical example of this seems to be Shackleton’s Expedition to Antarctica 🥶.

This is a sticky idea. Once you know it you’ll find lots of different places to reference it.

For example, it explains why I miss exercise when I’m not doing it regularly - it’s not because it always fun in the moment, but because I miss the endorphin hit I get when I’m done. It’s type two fun.

However, look closer…

There are two parts to these definitions: Is it fun in the moment? Or not? And, is it still fun when you reflect later? Or not?

That would suggest a quadrant.

In that case, there is an important type of fun missing from the original scale:

Type Four Fun: fun at the time, but regretted later

We don’t have to work too hard to think of examples: eating too much, drinking too much, posting to social media when we’re angry, and most things we call “procrastination”.

The self-help industry is focussed on tricking our brains:
less Type Four Fun and more Type Two Fun.

So, how do we manage all of these things that are tempting in the moment but bad for us over the long term - like donuts? (i.e. things which make us “shallow happy”, as opposed to things that might not be so immediately enjoyable but which make us “deep happy”)

There are basically two strategies we can use:


Sometimes we need to remove the temptation entirely.

For example, the food we eat is a subset of the food we buy. So, if we want to improve our diet we could stop buying the food we don’t want to eat.

I say “subset” here intentionally, because some of the food we buy is thrown away rather than eaten. Interestingly, the food that is best for us - fruit, vegetables, etc - is also the most perishable, and so the most often discarded.


Sometimes we can ration.

For example, we mostly eat whatever food we are served. So, if we want to limit the volume we consume then we could consciously order smaller portions, when we eat out, and buy smaller plates and bowls so that there is a natural limit to the amount we serve ourselves.

This crockery hack is an example of the “pit of success”. It’s much easier to do the right thing if we’ve created an environment where that is also the path of least resistance.

Choose your fighter

Which of these is the better strategy?

If we read too much self-help then we are likely to be pulled in one direction or the other. But, this is just another continuum. There is no right answer.

If our problem is that once we start we just can’t stop then maybe we need to abstain. If our problem is that we too easily overindulge and have so much of a good thing it becomes a bad thing then maybe we need to moderate.

The fact that I’ve used food examples throughout reveals one of the things that I personally struggle to manage. You will each have your own examples.

Maybe for you it’s alcohol, tobacco or other more seriously addictive drugs - like a regular salary. Maybe it’s time spent on work (at the expense of family). Maybe it’s your CO2 emissions? Maybe it’s doom scrolling on social media? Maybe it’s exposure to sunlight?

The list of things that are type four fun is long!

Either way, the important thing is to think in advance about the things that we each need to manage and be mindful and explicit about our strategy and techniques for dealing with all of those.

  1. Interestingly, in the documentary Chasing Great about his final season in 2015 he shows a page from his pre-match note book where one of the things he has written is ‘Enjoy’, so maybe he had mixed feelings about this? ↩︎

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