We bring it on ourselves. From the minute our children are born, we want to make sure they're happy and enjoying life. We take them to Disneyland , throw them birthday parties, and take them to play dates, always asking afterwards if they had fun.
In the course of a day, you can easily hear the following:
From a co-worker: Doing anything fun this weekend?
From a grocery clerk: Are you having a fun day?
From your kid: I don't like my history teacher; he's not very fun.
From a TV commercial: . where the fun never stops.
From a neighbor: I thought I'd have a barbecue; doesn't that sound fun?
From a church member: That was such a fun calling.
From another church member: Come to Girls' Camp; it's so fun.
From another church member: I hope he'll be a fun bishop for the youth.
What is this worldwide obsession with having fun? How did fun become our top priority, the next basic necessity of life right after food and shelter? And why are we then surprised when our teenagers seem reluctant to work hard, slow to serve others, and far more interested in pursuing self indulgent activities, parties, drugs, sex, and thrill-seeking adventures?
We have given them the tourist mentality that they're really just sight-seeing through life, not particularly contributing, only taking and enjoying.
I'm not saying we err in showing our children a great time, but maybe we've allowed recreation to dominate our calendars, pushing aside the discipline it takes to do the difficult things. Or the compassionate things. Or the bigger things, such as charity and political work.
I even know mothers who worry, and feel guilty, if they aren't keeping everyone happy all the time. They cook four different dinners, trying to please each picky palate. They drive like maniacs to six different after-school sports practices, play rehearsals, dance classes, and scouting events. Every kid's passing interest must be indulged, every videogame must be purchased, and every fashion accessory must be had.
And then they wonder why their teenagers seem so selfish (and why they, themselves are so depressed).
I'm not a saint on this. I've allowed fun to creep up to the top of the priority list, as well. We love to go to movies, travel, eat out, and play games. I'm not saying we should be puritan killjoys; we all need some rest and relaxation. But like me, many parents find time slipping away with skills not taught, service not rendered, and duties not fulfilled because something "fun" came up.
If you want some chilling evidence, call your local video rental store and see how many hours you've spent watching movies so far this year. Now count up how many hours you've spent in the temple. Yikes.
I have a couple of solutions. When our kids were young and if one of them seemed lazy about doing chores, I would often turn to Bob and say, "Shoulda bought a cow." Farm kids had a good work ethic, I'd say. They had to get up at four in the morning to milk cows, spent the day digging fence post holes, shoveling out the barn, and hefting bales of hay onto trucks. Those kids made the best missionaries and spouses, I would say. I, of course, never owned a cow, just observed from a distance. A great distance.
And I'm not telling all families to buy a cow. I'm just saying get your kids working. Don't give them chores as punishment; give them chores as part of daily life. Garden, paint, scrub, sew, iron, cook, repair - get sons and daughters both to see the joy that comes from skills learned and tasks accomplished. When one of them says, "But nobody else makes their kids work like this," smile and know that you're parenting better than their friends' folks are.
Second, take them along as you perform service. I would rather see every widow in the world visited by cheery youngsters who clean her bathroom and mow her lawn, than watch those same youngsters kick a soccer ball. Teach them to cook meals for the needy, to serve in soup kitchens, to raise funds for good causes, to donate time and love to those less fortunate. When you're filling the family calendar, designate weekly time for giving back to the community.
When kids come home from school, don't ask them if they had fun today; ask them whom they helped and what they learned.
Make the temple the center of your lives. Visit when they're young, just to walk the grounds and talk about it. Do baptisms as kids get older. And let them see you attending regularly; make it obvious that this is a priority and one you enjoy.
Last, redefine what fun actually is. I went to a timeshare lecture recently and was underwhelmed when they touted all the jet-skiing, tennis playing, club hopping, bungee jumping, and sun-tanning each of their condos offered. To me, those are the immature definition of fun that kids seek before they know what life is all about. Those are the temporary thrills that fade faster than a "have a nice day" wish.
Real joy, real happiness comes from serving others, dry as that may sound to wet ears. Doing things that make a difference, really mattering - that's where the thrills and excitement truly are.
Want a buzz? Find a missing ancestor and get that name to the temple. Want to feel so ecstatic you cry? Bring a friend into the gospel. Want to have just a bit more pep in your step? Serve people all around you, all the time - open doors for people, hold their crying babies, offer assistance to the elderly.
Live what you know and live it with integrity; that's how to fall asleep happy every night. Do what Christ would do. Then when someone asks if you had a fun weekend, you can honestly say, "I never knew it was possible to have so much fun. But let me tell you what I mean."
Joni's daily advice show, The Joni Hilton Show, airs weeknights from 6-8 pm Pacific Time, streaming live at kahi.com. Previously recorded shows can also be heard there. If you'd like to call her show, the toll free number is 1-800-950-5244.