Elizabeth Craft is a TV writer and producer living in LA.
She says so at the beginning of every Happier podcast, which I listen to faithfully each Wednesday when new episodes come out. Since the beginning of the podcast, which she creates in collaboration with her sister, Gretchen Rubin (the author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, among other books), I’ve been jealous of her. She and Gretchen do not live near each other, but they have this great project they do together, and they are both making their living by writing, and she has worked with Joss Whedon, for God’s sake (she worked on Dollhouse, which I really enjoyed, despite its early cancellation after only two seasons).
Nevertheless, to the extent that she talks about her work, it does sound very much like work – her “happiness stumbling blocks” are familiar, like the head writer who manufactures fake emergencies to put pressure on writers, or the “evil office donut-bringer” who derails her dieting plans. Even she of the enviable writing job has to deal with parts of the work that she doesn’t like. One of my favorite things that I’ve heard so far is that she and her writing partner created signs as a reminder for one another to hang in their office. The signs say, “This is a fun job, and I enjoy it.”
They need to be reminded!
Incredible. But not completely foreign. I’m familiar with the phenomenon. Anyone who enjoys adventure sports has probably heard of the term “Type 2 Fun.” Type 2 fun is not actually enjoyable at the time of the experience. It is defined by a very difficult experience that is only fun in retrospect. You might be camping in the snow, for example, and freezing cold all night, but when you complete your objective or trip, you want to do it again as soon as possible. That’s Type 2 fun. There are lots of backpacking trips I’ve taken that I can identify quite distinctly as Type 2 fun. It’s worth it to be tested, to be sore. To have a heavy pack cutting into your shoulders or (and?) an icy wind raking across your knuckles as you crimp hard on a small hold. Ultimately it makes the campfire, the river and mountaintop views, and the hard-earned dinner and sleep even more delicious. And what I often find is that the difficulties are, in themselves, worthwhile – you come out stronger, more confident, more knowledgeable, more humble, and much more connected to the grit of your insides and the harshness of the world outside.
And it feels so familiar now, even though I haven’t had a trip like that in years. It’s because parenting is Type 2 fun. It explains so much!
It explains why older folks at the grocery store want to remind you to “Enjoy it, it goes so fast!” at the precise moment when your toddler is grabbing all the mints and magazines off the impulse rack and throwing them on the ground, or standing up to try to take a nose dive onto the linoleum. It explains why I miss my son as soon as he goes to sleep, even though the process of putting him in bed feels like a soul-shaking battle almost every single night (forgive me if I ever thought my patience was tested before having to put a toddler to bed in order to binge watch Netflix).
It is not fun, in the moment, to explain (patiently) to a two-year-old why he must make an “Aaah” sound instead of an “Oooooh” sound to allow you to brush his teeth. It is not fun to have to consider your words so carefully, hoping to avoid having to pin him down to wipe the feces off his rear end without smearing them all over the floor, and then choosing a wrong word and having to do it anyway. It is not fun to watch him throw the food you spent hours cooking all over the floor and then demand a cheese stick two hours later. It is not fun to discipline when he hits.
But Type 2 fun! That explains why when I look back at him in the car while he giggles and tries to whistle, or when I talk about his silly stories and costumes to someone else, I find myself saying and honestly thinking, “He is such a fun kid.” He is worth it, just like the summit of a particularly painful mountain. I think it’s why parents often enthusiastically tell those without children – the young and childfree, watching our struggle in bewilderment – that it’s the best experience of our lives, and we definitely don’t regret it. “Sure,” they say, backing away slowly. “Sure, you don’t.”
I can understand their skepticism. Doesn’t everyone wonder why mountaineers or marathoners or Tough Mudder racers do it, sometimes? Don’t most people watch their suffering with confusion and disbelief? Did you know there is an obstacle in the Tough Mudder in which people run through electrically charged wires? They don’t have to do that! Why are they doing that?!
In the society we live in today, we don’t have to have kids. In fact, it’s easier not to. We don’t have to climb mountains, and we aren’t driven to run marathons. The first mountain climber probably was forced to migrate to find food. The first marathon runner had urgent news to deliver to Athens and no iPhone with which to electronically message it. But marathon running is at an all-time high, people are finding new mountains to climb all the time, and huge percentages of the population have kids – every day they’re having kids! Imagine!
So the other thing about Type 2 fun is that it’s impossible to really explain well why I want to do it again. I can only describe the experience of struggling through it, perhaps miserably, and then being psyched to try it again. You either get it or you don’t.
If you, like me, are pregnant with a second (or third, etc.) child, I know you get it. I don’t even have to ask. Someday we’ll get to be the old folks in the grocery story smiling at the young parents in a mix of envy and relief. I’ll always hold onto that, as I’m hallucinating from sleep deprivation and trying to rock my newborn to sleep, and you can, too.