Your soul is infinitely creative. It is alive and expansive in nature. It is curious and playful, changing with the tides of time. –Debbie Ford
When I think of playfulness, I think of an innate sense of curiosity and fun-loving actions. It’s those moments when I allow the child in me to take over, before the adult in me steps up to say, “Ok, that’s enough.”
I saw a social media posting recently that said, “No matter how big and bad you are, when a two-year-old hands you a toy phone, you answer it.” Yes, I believe that children and grandchildren keep us young at heart. I know my kids have created a lot of opportunities for me to play and enjoy life in a way I probably would not have without them.
I recall a time, for example, when we visited a museum that had an indoor maze. Three times we ran through the maze as fast as we could trying to see who could get through first. Out of breath after the last trip, my youngest asked hopefully, “One more time?” That was a great joyful moment, and I would have never given myself permission to race through the maze if I were not with my kids!
Playfulness is Important at Work, too
Work hard, play hard, that’s my motto. As an example of playfulness at work, there was the time when, for more than a year, I would leave mysterious notes in my second level managers office, right next to his candy bowl. The bowl was filled with different candies, including an occasional milk chocolate. My anonymous notes suggested he spend a few more pennies and supply white chocolate as well.
The manager never knew where the notes came from (nor did anyone else) until the two of us were at a convention and we arrived at a booth giving away chocolate. “Oh! Do they have white chocolate?” I exclaimed, realizing all too late I’d given myself away. The look on my manager’s face was one of pure delight. Mystery solved! It was a fun game. Innocent, playful, and it still makes me smile when I think about it.
Make Play a Priority
Sometimes, however, adulthood leads us to forget about the child within. We begin to take life — and ourselves — much too seriously. Being an adult doesn’t mean no play, it just means that we have to work a little harder to make time to play. To do so, we must make play a priority.
Improv Everywhere is a New York City-based comedy collective, founded by Charlie Todd, that stages unexpected performances in public places, including the annual no-pants subway ride. I love the way Charlie addresses the issue of making time for play in his TedTalk Why you should take time to play. He explains that while most people appreciate the comedic relief his antics provide, some people complain that improv participants have “too much time on their hands.” In response, Charlie explains that everyone in New York City is busy. However, participants in Improv Everywhere occasionally choose to “spend their time in an unusual way.” It’s really about discretionary time and how we choose to use it.
I enjoy light-hearted pranks because they bring people into the moment by shaking up the expected context of any given situation. In fact, I’ve watched several of Charlie’s staged public pranks on his Youtube channel and they all elicit a good laugh from me. I will be participating in my first flash mob in late August. I’ve always thought it would be fun, so now I’ve joined up with a big group of anonymous friends to experience it for myself. So, if you are in San Antonio, and you are in the right place at the right time, who knows what you’ll see!
Adult Play is Good for Your Health
The health benefits of adult play are numerous. According to the article, The Benefits of Play for Adults from HealthGuide.org, a non-profit dedicated to mental health and well-being, the benefits of adult play include:
- Stress relief. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
- Improved brain function. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.
- Enhanced creativity. Young children often learn best when they are playing—and that principle applies to adults, as well. You’ll learn a new task better when it’s fun, and you’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate your imagination, helping you adapt and problem solve.
- Improved relationships. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.
- Sustained youthfulness and energy. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best.
One added benefit of play is that it often generates laughter which, by the way, is a very healthy activity all by itself. Read more about the benefits of laughter from my blog.
Make a Play Date with Yourself
Playing can be many things. Tag football, board games, swinging at the park, playing with children, fetching with a dog, completing a crossword puzzle, or just laying back and observing the clouds float by. You have your entire life ahead, so why not lighten up. Make a play date with yourself, invites some friends, and have yourself a good laugh. Not only will it make you feel better in the now, but it will also make memories that you can smile at years from now.
How will you choose to play?
Sheila Callaham is an author, motivational coach, and longtime communications and change management professional.