The Key to Happiness Might be in a Toybox

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There’s a feature on the Motoring Forward Facebook page where we set a weekly theme and provide a few exercises for self discovery. This week, in keeping with the Christmas holiday, the theme is “playfulness.” As I was looking for an appropriate image for the post, I started to discover how difficult this particular “road trip” might be for some men. Society, to some degree, sees playfulness as frivolous. In certain situations, like playing with kids, it’s fine but how can it fit into other parts of your life?

When it comes to the trait of playfulness, I’m on the upper-end of the goofy scale. I’ve never had a problem being silly, horsing around or being downright impish. This is part of who I am and I’ve been able to successfully integrate this trait into my life. As a director in a high-tech company, it allowed me to work through stressful HR issues and I developed a reputation for not letting much bother me. Now, I also had detractors that thought I could have been “more intense and serious” but my staff appreciated that they didn’t have to worry about me going off on them; they just had to listen to my corny jokes or puns.

So, outside of dealing with children, why is being playful seen in such a negative light for men? Dr. Stuart Brown is a psychologist and leads the National Institute for Play. They focus on opening opportunities for play in relationships, health, education and corporate environments. He observed that “Executives running organizations do not have the information to understand the true nature of play. Even those who have a natural appreciation and temperament for the benefits of play see play and work as separate. Some believe that play is the opposite of work. Yet science already provides data to show that playful ways of work lead to more creative, adaptable workers and teams.” Note the belief that work and play are opposites. Brown is often quoted as saying that the opposite of play isn’t work; the opposite of play is depression.

In his excellent article about adult play, Joe Robinson explains that “Play brings you back to life — your life. Adults need to play because so much of our life is utilitarian. We need to reconnect with the things of our lives that ground us in who we really are and why we like our lives. When a 40-year-old goes headfirst down a water slide, that person is not 40 anymore. A few decades have been knocked off, because something inside has come alive again. It should be pretty obvious that the animating spark of play is the fast track to happiness.”

How might you add a little more play into your life? Here are some instructions to get you started:

  • Make a list of what brought you joy when you were young. Was it sports, puzzles, games or being creative?
  • Map these to activities you can do right now. Maybe you could join an adult sport league, start a family game night or get back to that creative writing you started in college.
  • Make a commitment to explore these activities over the next 30 to 60 days.
  • For the purpose of your own discovery, start a journal of what you’re doing to be more playful. Do some reflection and note the impact it has on other parts of your life.
  • Once you feel comfortable with your new, playful self, think of how you can introduce play into your professional life. Could you increase creativity or lower stress?
  • Finally, bring some playfulness into your relationships. This part you may want to keep out of your journal.

Play is a necessary part of being a whole and fulfilled person. It’s required for your wellbeing and happiness. What are you waiting for; go out and play!

Photo credit: Kalexanderson / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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