Learning How to Have a Good Time Together
December 27, 2017
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“What is a good time? Does anything of the sort exist?”
Josef Pieper
“The trick is not to arrange a festival, but to find people who can enjoy it.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

The time we spend with loved ones during Christmastide can be downright discouraging. People get frustrated, tempers flare over small things, and it’s difficult to find something that everyone wants to do.

We find ourselves thinking: it wasn’t supposed to go like this. Especially this time of year.

Quality time together seldom comes easily. We can note two related points. First, having a good time together requires more of us than we realize. It is easy to notice what is lacking in other people’s dispositions. But only our own dispositions are in our direct control. The more we cultivate habits of putting others first, and of savoring life in simple and communal ways, the more we will be capable of making good times happen. It will take much practice.

Second, contexts that are conducive to having a good time together are harder and harder to come by. We have to seek them out, or create them ourselves. Finding good ways of being together usually means finding good things to do together. It can also require that we set aside certain things we have become used to. And it can be disheartening, even hurtful, when well-intentioned efforts don’t bear the fruits for which we hoped.

But a truly good time together is always possible. It might be just around the corner. Indeed, earnestly to desire it and faithfully to cultivate it is already to be half way there. Even the efforts that seem to have misfired will always have been worth it.

A heartfelt Merry Christmas to you.

~ ~ ~

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was a German philosopher in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas. Many of his works have been translated into English and are still in print, including Leisure the Basis of Culture, Happiness and Contemplation, A Theory of Festivity, and The Four Cardinal Virtues, to name a few. In his examination of festivity he quotes the famous 19th century atheist German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Image: Carl Larsson (1853-1919)

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12 comments

  1. A lovely and timely reminder! Merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you Erin! Merry Christmas to your whole family.

  2. So true that you have to work at it! It’s certainly an exercise in humility, as is anything that is worthwhile. Merry Christmas Doc.

    1. Kenny, Well said. Humility indeed. Merry Christmas to you and yours too.

  3. Thank you for this reflection. I was encouraged by it because you acknowledge the difficulty, the need for practice, the missed opportunities and potential hurts. Rather than becoming disheartened, I am more eager to try again.

    1. Pat, I am so encouraged to hear this. God bless your efforts. Merry Christmas to the whole family.

  4. Merry Christmas to you and your family!!

    1. Thank you very much Jane, and to yours too!

  5. Love the Carl Larsson (and post, of course!) Merry Christmas –

    1. Yes, I especially love Carl Larsson’s great Christmas/wintery scenes too. Merry Christmas.

  6. Merry Christmas Dr. Cuddeback,

    Interesting post! I may be off in my thinking however, as a youth minister my team and I are constantly trying to find ways to teach our teens to enjoy each other’s company in times of gathering. We find that we can often over plan a certain occasion when sometimes it’s just about being with one another, laughing, singing and eating. Keeping it simple seems to be the answer when the world around us seems to be moving so quickly.

    1. Elisa,
      You raise a great and difficult point: “planning” vs “the natural” approach. I think the answer will usually be in a balance, and just what the balance should be very much depends on the circumstances. Part of what we must reckon with is that people, especially young people, have very poor habits regarding spending time together. This makes it more difficult for good times simply to “break out,” as it were. For instance, we tend not to have common songs that we can break into, nor have we developed habits of reading aloud together of having discussions that really probe more deeply into things. Further, habits of turning to smart phones during a lull, etc. make it harder to have sustained communal presence. These factors point to a need for us to be more pro-active in “helping” good times happen. Your experience does correspond to mine that we can indeed over-plan. But I have to say that I wouldn’t be too worried about over-planning. Often our planning is what makes the difference. I also think that good planning is often what makes the good times feel very natural when they actually happen. At the end of the day it is my opinion that youth ministers, and all who have occasion to host or invite people to special events, would do well to be intentional about the importance of seeking quality time for communal leisure and recreation… as well as communal good work… but that’s another topic. Thanks so much for your comment.