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Blue neon sign shaped into the word "enjoy".

Why Do We Mistake Fun for Happiness?


Fun is easier to define than happiness, and it’s actually easier, even, to confuse these two terms.

The philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek has said that the fundamental message of modern psychoanalysis is allowing people to ‘not enjoy’:

At first, psychoanalysis was a tool employed to help people overcome their inhibitions (especially in relation to their body and their sexuality) and their fears, in a way that would enable them to enjoy their life —this enjoyment is one of the coordinates that help us understand the 20th century. We can recall, for example, one of the most famous and effective slogans of all times: when Coca-Cola became synonymous with ‘enjoy!’

Vintage "enjoy Coca Cola" sign.

As if this was a commandment in our culture’s most basic program, the word ‘enjoy’ seems to float over all of our acts, over our social interactions and our socialization with the ‘outer world.’ This order’s most dangerous aspect is that enjoyment entails its own punishment: the guilt of not enjoying, or not enjoying enough.

Perhaps this is the reason why one of the most widely spread plagues nowadays is boredom. The fear of being bored drives us to buy things that we do not need or to go out to places that don’t really stimulate us.

Frequently, the current state of affairs has made us confuse happiness with fun, as if having a good time allowed us to overlook the question of personal happiness. Perhaps it is easier to have fun than it is to be happy: perhaps one of the scenarios that define our times is a person staring at their smartphone on the street or on public transport, feeling completely alone and bored in the middle of millions of strangers.

Perhaps this hypothetical person feels as lonely as the person who pretends to be having fun at a party, in a drunken stupor that is no longer ritualistic and evolutionary but mechanical and bureaucratic.

All the coordinates of fun and happiness can be easily mistaken for one another during a party. As a disruption of the sacred time in everyday life, for ancient civilizations a party was used to keep track of time, and also, perhaps more importantly, for the purpose of experiencing time communally, with themselves and with the gods. Piercarlo Grimaldi, the Italian anthropologist, considers that “the party, the rituals and the folkloric entities are an integral part of the rebirth of a community, understood as the sphere were collective memory is still a shared practice and means to construct identity, the representation of the people.”

But are parties still a way of keeping track of the passing of time, as it happens with birthdays and religious celebrations? Or, are they more imperative in our consumerist society because we pretend to have fun in order to cope with our inability to be happy? Do they help us avoid searching for other answers to our lack of happiness? The euphoria, camaraderie, and even music, dancing and alcohol can be seen as the characters for the mise en scène of a fictitious and overacted fun in the performances of the middle classes of the world. This doesn’t mean we should avoid parties; however, it does imply that many times we seek these to pretend to feel empathy, a willingness to interact with others because we have forgotten how to feel. The dialogue has adopted a secondary role when it comes to meeting someone: the music booming from loudspeakers in fashionable nightclubs has transformed art into decadence. This is how we enter the empire of the look through economic ostentation perpetuated by fashion: being is appearance.

Is this then, a call in favor of sadness and melancholy, asking us to stop going to parties? Not necessarily. This is about reflecting on our motivations in order to obey our era’s command: enjoy. Are we committing a crime or some sort of sin if we don’t enjoy? How can we define, on our own terms, what enjoyment means? Can we enjoy without consuming? Without buying that enjoyment we supposedly pine after? Can there be happiness without enjoyment? As we said before, what matters is that the motivation behind every act of our life is guided by a profound and conscious need, even when it comes to enjoying a party. Only in this way will we be able to differentiate what we enjoy from all the things that are commercialized as pre-packaged ‘enjoyment’.

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