Why Retrospective Fun Is The Best Kind of Fun

We reveal the secret to genuine and wholesome happiness

fun giddens Happiness misery mud race nuts challenge Oscar Wilde pain retrospective fun stephen gateley third way youth

We all (hopefully) have fun. But, what sort of fun, I ask you?

Probably, the second most annoying thing Oscar Wilde ever did was to say, “Youth is wasted on the young”.

**The first most annoying thing being his invention of the Stephen Gateley hairdo.**


Oscar Wilde, after he completed The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘Youth is wasted on the young’ is one of those irritatingly haunting things. I constantly find myself wanting to prove him wrong – an Oscar Wilde-centred state of mind that I’m sure a lot of you endure. Am I having fun? Am I making the most of my supposed physical peak and height of mental perception? Am I making enough formative life decisions?

This is where the division between easy ‘in the moment’ fun and retrospective fun becomes significant. It took me a 7km mud race this weekend to realise that retrospective fun had a greater capacity to make this ‘wasted youth’ seem less volatile and capricious. In essence, it showed that ‘in the moment’ fun is cracking but it doesn’t change your life.


An epiphany as clear as mud

After all, why engage in something that is obviously fun when you can do something that you only realise to be fun weeks, months or years later? It’s a no-brainer, for sure…

An ‘in the moment’ fun activity is similar to meeting someone nice. He’s nice, you know. Vacuous, insipid, overly-polite, lacks gumption, but really nice. Sufficient but not overwhelming.

For example, a ‘fun’ night in Cindies is one where you seem to recall a 10% increase in heart rate, smiling a little and maybe even laughing.

But, in many ways, this sort of activity is quite transactional. You go in expecting a direct gain in return. Anything less and your experience is subpar. This is a very fleeting kind of fun. The sort of fun that helps boost a mood but does not mark your day apart from any others. Oscar chimes in at this point to say this sort of fun is quite de rigeur for the youth.

However, a retrospectively fun activity is so much better. It almost becomes an intellectual activity in which you have to work out why you are pleased with this experience.

In two weeks time, this will be fun

The mud race is a prime example of this.

At the time, whimpering as your buttocks get wedged into a miniature crevasse or faceplanting into a bog in front of army cadets is not necessarily considered fun. Funny but not fun. And therefore, in the moment, if it is peculiar (exhausting, morale-draining etc.), why does it get better in retrospect?

Cue food analogy. ‘In the moment’ fun is the bowl of cornflakes you eat for breakfast. It is emotional sustenance that keeps you going. Retrospective fun is the one-offs that will stick with you. Post-mud race, you finish, shattered and with a desperate need to lather your entire bruised self in aloe vera, but with a lasting sense of exaltation. Find your own equivalent and you’re sorted.

When an experience grows on you even once it is over, the effect it will have will be so much more enduring. You dislike a Tab article when you first read it? Then, in retrospect, so many of the points it makes begin to resonate and stick with you as life lessons…[give this an hour and two further re-reads].

Without sounding like some preachy Dorky McDork, retrospective fun is the best kind of fun because you have had to work for it. The slog, the pain and the misery are almost completely wiped from your memory because that moment of happiness seems all the greater in contrast.

A dear friend, Anthony (not a friend at all), once told me (through the medium of a textbook) that there is always a Third Way. We know that. Marry these two worlds of instantly-gratifying fun to keep you ticking over with the world of retrospective fun to make you feel like you’ve achieved. And you, my friend, will be forever happy.

So, maybe this retrospective fun captures Cambridge exactly? And that’s why so many of us loiter around even when our degrees have finished because we realise too late how darn great it is? Great news for future me, reminiscing. Not so great news for current me, trundling along through piles of work. Without going all harridan on you, do more of these retrospective fun activities every now and again. And, just bear in mind as we approach the dreaded morass of self-loathing that is Easter Term that in retrospect, this will all be fun and games. Use that as an incentive.