A few years ago, my husband and I went to a destination wedding of a college friend. The maid-of-honor was larger than life in a way that was absolutely and ridiculously playful, hilarious and downright silly. Her charm gravitationally pulled everyone in through the wedding weekend – she brought out in each of us our hidden self that dances like no one is watching, laughs until our belly hurts, and plays with reckless abandon. That wedding weekend was so inordinately fun, that it gave me pause. I turned to my husband on the drive home and said, “Am I still fun?” It wasn’t that I didn’t fully enjoy my life; it was that the weekend had been so standout fun and playful, it made me wonder if I had become too serious in my adult life? Had I forgotten what it was like to channel my inner child?
It turns out the majority of us have done just that. Children laugh an average of 400 times a day – adults, just 17 times. Integrating play into their activities is effortless and natural, as is curiosity and questioning. The volume of questions adults ask steeply declines as we approach adulthood, and with it, our creativity. Organizations that rely on innovation are tuning into this and intentionally creating cultures that hone creativity and design thinking to solve difficult problems by welcoming curiosity and questioning.
Since play is linked to creativity, happiness and productivity, gone are the days we should work in order to play. Instead, we should look for ways to infuse play into our work. What type of work day do you enjoy more – one that is all-business or one that allows you to enjoy a laugh with your colleagues and have some fun in the process?
What I found to be good news was that there’s more than one way to play, so if your kind of play is not the Maid-of-Honor, life-of-the-party-type, there’s hope for you! Yes, you can still have fun and be fun. In his book Play, Dr. Stuart Brown explains that play comes in a variety of formats - it can be social, imaginative, involve objects or rough-housing (think sports!), or be experienced as a spectator.
The bottom line is that regardless of how you experience play, we all need more of it. While research on play and the brain in humans is burgeoning but still limited, we know from research on mammals that those who play more live longer, have better survival instincts, and develop more complex brains. Signals from others of playfulness - from body language, voice or facial expression - communicate that we are safe in our company and help to establish trust. And when our brains do not detect threat, we decrease our stressors and are free to enjoy the feel-good stuff in life and express ourselves more authentically.
Let’s help each other to play more, laugh more, to not take ourselves too seriously, to be unencumbered, and to reconnect with what brings us joy!
Here’s to more LMAO, dancing-like-no-one-is-watching moments!