Jürgen Moltmann on the distinction between Joy and Fun

I’ve been thinking about how happiness fits in with Christian theology ever sense I had the chance to serve in a support role for Ellen Charry as she worked on her book, God and the Art of Happiness (I did a two-part recap of that work here at DET: part 1, part 2; I also spoke recently on the topic).

I’ve also been reading Moltmann’s recent book, as those who follow my Twitter account may have figured out…

Moltmann makes what I thought was a very insightful distinction between “joy” and “fun” in the course of this work that I wanted to lift up for you, gentle readers. Moltmann is working here in part from his earlier book on joy, of which I was not previously aware. I’m not sure how widely it circulated in North America. In any case, this is what he has to say. As usual, bold is mine.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Living God and the Fullness of Life (WJK, 2015), 97.

Here the distinction between joy and fun is helpful. We are living in the wealthier of the earth’s societies, and in the “upwardly mobile” sections of them. This is a “fun society.” “I want to have some fun,” young people who can afford it say, and throw parties—if possible with music that is so loud one can’t hear oneself speak. But then, one is not supposed to talk and listen, after all, but everyone is supposed to be “beside oneself,” each for oneself, in the dancing throng. If one has had this kind of fun, one is by no means sated and contented; one is hungry for more and more of it. Life is supposed to be an endless party. The elderly rich have their cocktail parties, where courtesies and platitudes are exchanged, and everyone watches to see what the other one is doing. One no longer knows how to be festive, and one has stopped trying. One engages an entertainer and an event managed, because one no longer knows how to set about these things oneself. But I will stop my mockery at this point, because I don’t want to be a “spoilsport,” as they say.

The distance between joy and this kind of fun is as wide as the gap between experienced happiness and a game of chance, or between a successful life and a lottery win. Real joy is a feeling about life, but fun is a superficial experience; joy is lasting and enduring, and puts its stamp on one’s whole attitude to life. Joy is fulfilled time; fun is short-lived and serves to pass the time, as they say. The feeling about life behind the party-making, fun society is probably boredom and a certain contempt for life. Real joy stimulates the soul, makes relationships flourish, makes the heart light and limbs nimble, mobilizes undreamed-of powers, and increases confidence. Genuine happiness lays hold of the person’s whole being. In joy, the ecstatic nature of human existence finds its true expression. We are made for joy. We are born for joy.



Tamarra McMaken said…
Over the past few months I've been contemplating the verse, "The joy of the Lord is my strength" and have come to a life changing realization. My strength comes from knowing that the Lord is 'joyful'. He joys over His creation. He joys over me (Zeph. 3:17). As I contemplate that truth I am emboldened, encouraged, and strengthened...and filled with joy myself.
PostMoltmannian said…
Good stuff, Travis!

I think Moltmann is right. Joy is much deeper than fun, and people who are in perpetual pursuit of fun reveal (I think) a real lacj of contentment.

Someone said that until you be alone in your own room and be fine with it, you are not yet fit to really live;)

Joy doesn't need need to be propped up. It can stand in the most dire of circumstances.
Kate Rae Davis said…
Great distinction! I hear people say "happy" more than "fun." but I think the two are really similar. Joy is a much deeper emotional place, and much more rewarding. I was a little annoyed in "Inside Out" that the lead character seemed more focused on happiness and fun than she did on Joy (although Joy is a more sensible name than Fun).
Paul Raymont said…
Tillich in The New Being: "And so we use them for a kind of pleasure which can be called "fun." But it is not the creative kind of fun often connected with play; it is, rather, a shallow, distracting, greedy way of "having fun." And it is not by chance that it is that type of fun which can easily be commercialized, for it is dependent on calculable reactions, without passion, without risk, without love. Of all the dangers that threaten our civilization, this is one of the most dangerous ones: the escape from one’s emptiness through a "fun" which makes joy impossible."

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