Stuart Brown is a man on a mission. He is convinced that there is something missing in many of our lives, the absence of which is a source of much suffering and unhappiness. It is the lack of this element that is the source of problems that range from depression to violent crime, and include mental illness, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease divorce, and other serious health and relationship issues. The missing ingredient in this equation isn’t money, time, education, or even love. It’s something that is intrinsic to our nature and has for most of us, over the years been lost as other competing commitments became dominant. And the good news, according to Dr. Brown, is that it’s possible for all of us to bring this quality back into our lives and to upgrade our sense of well-being to a higher level, regardless of our current life circumstances, our age or our personal history.
Good New: We can bring playfulness back today.
The word for this is “play”. Play is more than engagement with a specific activity or game, but rather it’s a state of mind that can be experienced in any aspect of our lives. Embodying an attitude of playfulness infuses our life experience with a sense of ease, enjoyment, pleasure, and creativity that has transformative and restorative benefits.
In his book Play (Avery, 2009), Dr. Brown lists what he considers to be the properties of play, which include:
Purposeless. Play is done for it’s own sake. It is not a means to another end, but is done for the pleasure of the experience itself
Voluntary. Play is not obligatory and cannot be required.
Inherently attractive. It’s fun and makes you feel good and contains an element of excitement.
Freedom from time. When we are at play, we lose a sense of the passage of time.
Diminished consciousness of self. When we play, we become more conscious (aware of the present moment), and less self-conscious.
Improvisational potential. There is openness to experiencing things in new ways that can allow for greater creativity, chance, spontaneity, and serendipity.
Continuation desire. The pleasure of the experience drives us to keep doing what we’re doing.
The Antidote to Duty, Obligation and Have To
Play is the antidote to the feeling of being constrained, the need to be practical, to follow established rules, to please others, to make efficient use of time, and the vague sense of guilt that we often experience when we are failing to fulfill any of the “shoulds” in our lives. Play liberates us from the feeling of being encumbered by the many explicit and implicit social demands.
But even that isn’t the main reason to be playful. Play is, very simply, its own reward. We never outgrow the need for play and we never stop experiencing its benefits. The biggest obstacle to keeping play alive isn’t a lack of money or time, nor is it the responsibilities that we have elected to assume, nor is it our age or even our physical condition. We can create the experience of play under any circumstances.
The resistance that many of us experience to becoming more playful isn’t external it’s internal. It’s our beliefs about adulthood being a time for serious business. Giving ourselves more permission to integrate a playful spirit more fully into our lives requires the willingness to appear to be foolish, immature, and to be at risk of being accused of “not acting your age”.
This is not to deny the magnitude of the challenges inherent in dealing with the realities of life and the increasing complexities of the modern world. But rather it’s a reminder that we may be better equipped to meet those challenges if we can bring an attitude of playfulness more fully into our lives.
Fun doesn't have to stop.
It could be that one of the most responsible things that we can do is to provide an example to the younger generation of adulthood as a time that continues to include fun, play, and curiosity. It’s no wonder that so many young people try to extend childhood in an attempt to delay the onset of a life stage that looks like it’s oppressive responsibility. Demonstrating that fun don’t stop when you get out of school, get married, or have children could be one of the best examples that we can set for young people.
Enlightenment, according to some spiritual traditions has to do with “lightening up”. We owe it to ourselves to take an honest inventory to see if we are experiencing enough play in our lives, not just on vacations, and not just on the weekends, but on a consistent, daily basis. If we’re not having enough play, what’s in the way? Play is a great gift that we give to ourselves and to all those around us. It’s just what the doctor ordered!
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio.
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