I have often wondered if children play because they are happy or they are happy because they play. There are scores of books written on the subject of being happy or finding happiness, just as many self-help articles, and there are people that devote a lifetime of study on the subject. I’ve been wondering why happiness is so elusive to many of adults that from the outside have the good job, nice house, supportive friends and no war or political strife in their lives. And then I see other adults that are struggling to make ends meet, may live in unusual accommodations, have friends that challenge them at every turn, are politically or socially active, and yet have a sense of happiness and purpose that is palpable. They are almost childlike in their pursuit of a life that gives them pleasure. We tend to call them selfish, or self-centered. We also are skeptical at their ability to prioritize playtime as an essential part of their daily life.
But, today there is more and more evidence that the ability to “play” in both children and adults has an acute effect on both happiness and creativity. Play comes naturally to kids. It is a safe way to learn, explore the world around them, and take chances and risk within a secure environment. And some of the most effective playtime is that which is unstructured. Let me repeat that – unstructured. As adults, how much of our daily lives do we allow to be unstructured? How much of that unstructured time do we allow ourselves to play? In most cases, I would venture to guess, zero. We have learned that it is good to make plans, time management is key, and if you want to get ahead you need to get serious. If you doubt the importance of the role that play should have in life, listen to Dr. Stuart Brown’s 2009 TED Talk and perhaps you will reconsider.
So how do we begin to play, especially if we are serious, unhappy adults? Perhaps it helps to spread a little absurdity and a little bit of fun. Charlie Todd shares his experiences in using improvisation and absurdity in public spaces for a shared, playful experience.
So if you want to learn to play, remember this:
- It’s the experience that counts, not the outcome.
- Laughter is a great play indicator and it’s an override to endorphin flow.
- It’s OK to allow yourself to daydream
- Being active is a form of play: go for a walk, join an adult sports league, learn to dance
- Irreverence is highly underrated.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012