Is this all there is? I remember feeling just that way a few years ago. I lost everything in a wildfire; I was trying to rebuild my life. Through a dark night of the soul, I determined is that the life I had was not the life I wanted. The road to my new life was hard, but along the way, I learned much. One of the things I learned was that childlike play and curiosity are an integral part of life, that many adults miss out on. We leave our childhood behind, we become full of ourselves and too serious. We are adults, we are not supposed to act silly. I can speak on this because I did not choose to play in my former life, though I choose to play now.
I just finished reading the New York Times bestseller Play, How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown, MD, and Christopher Vaughn. This book has provided me with scientific backup for what I have been saying for years: that as adults, we are lacking play in our lives.
According to Dr. Brown, “Remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. The ability to play is critical, not only to be happy, but also to sustain social relationships and being a creative, innovative person”.
He goes on to describe a lowly sea squirt; an organism that has been held up as an example of what early human ancestors may have been 550 million years ago. It has a very small brain – which allows it to move away from harm, towards nutrients. It is very mobile when young, but once it reaches the adult stage it attaches itself permanently in one place. The passing current provides enough nutrients, the sea squirt no longer needs to explore, and in effect, no longer needs its brain. It becomes a zombie – consuming its own brain. The moral of this story is to use it or lose it; as Dr. Brown states, either we grow and develop or we waste away.
This ties into play, because play promotes growth. “When we stop playing, we stop developing. Ultimately, we share the fate of the sea squirt, becoming vegetative, staying in one spot, not fully interacting with the world. More plant than animal. When we stop playing, we start dying.”
So how do we find this joie de vivre, this sense of playfulness? It helps to start small. In my part of the world, Autumn is in the air. Soon I will have the opportunity to jump into a pile of leaves, scattering them about as I laugh. Or, I can put on rain boots and stomp in puddles. It is surprising how liberating these small things can be, causing us to laugh out loud and not care how others see us.
Look for opportunities for levity. It can be as simple as saying “Oops” when you mess up instead of saying something that indicates frustration. Saying “Oops” can cause those around you to giggle; it is a word that carries no negative energy.
Look for opportunities to appreciate the aesthetics of the world around you. The beauty in the faces of the people as they go by, the majesty of a mountain, the liquid flow of the ocean, the strength of a tree. There is beauty all around. Being appreciative opens your heart and allows more joy to flow into your life.
Look for opportunities to play; how can you inject fun into the mundane, or find a way to do something outside of the norm? I personally like to find a swing and spend a few minutes soaring through the air. I also plan picnics in my living room during bad weather, and I sometimes invite friends over to roast marshmallows around a fire pit. I dance my heart out as I clean or cook.
Play can be incorporated into our home lives. Both housework and cooking can become more enjoyable when we crank up the music and dance our way through the chore. Parents can enroll their kids in a game, complete with prizes, for doing housework. Make it a race, make it a challenge, make it different. When we approach the mundane with a sense of playfulness, a world of joy opens within our hearts.
Work and play are also interrelated. Play-related activities improve life skills, produce fulfillment and inspire performance. People reach their highest level of achievement when they are motivated by fun, play, and the love of doing an activity. Artists, sports figures, writers, and even some business people are happier in their work when they see it as play. Further, when we give ourselves permission to play at something, we are no longer held by rules and boundaries, we can dream up solutions and playfully consider them. This approach leads to innovation and creative solutions.
According to Dr. Brown, “The world needs play because it enables each person to live a good life.”
My wish for you is that you find a way to add play to your day today.