Working hard is a value that many of us, including myself have. Many of us are very serious, very productive, and at the end of the day- totally exhausted. I am sure the very title of this post has some of you rolling your eyes and shouting “lazy liberal!” at the computer screen. But there is recent science to suggest that more play actually increases productivity as well as happiness, connection and even a decrease in criminal activity and addiction. For many people, alcohol and drugs became synonymous with how they played in early adolescence and into adulthood. For others, they had to grow up way too fast and as a survival skill, became overly responsible for their parents and never really got the chance to play. Maybe being an over achiever and really great at school replaced play. For some, the thought of being silly or playful is way harder for them than tolerating painful experiences. Learning to shut down playful parts of ourselves was helpful to survive painful or neglectful situations.
Children attach through play and silliness, this is one of the most powerful ways children build connections and bonds with their parents. But as we get older, the responsibilities of work, family, finances, house chores and taking care of elderly parents seem to leave little time for play and silliness.
I am here to tell you my friends- IT IS NON-NEGOTIABLE! You cannot be sustainably productive or connected in relationships without some play. It allows the brain to rejuvenate, it releases neurotransmitters of endorphins, natural pain killers as well as the feel-good ones like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. It also allows for flexibility in thinking and creativity. Laughter and play can help build a stronger mind/body connection, help improve sexual intimacy and help feel more comfortable and happy in your body. In my experience it helps me stop giving a shit about things that don’t really matter – like what the guy with the truck nuts who just zoomed past me and flipped me off thinks about me (I gave him the thumbs up sign in a playful manner) and helps increase empathy and compassion about things that do matter like putting my damn phone down and playing in the leaves with my kids.
So- how do you introduce a little play back into your life? Start by thinking back on what you used to love to do as a kid? Did you do that activity alone or with others? Is there something that you have wanted to do for a while, but have been making lots of excuses about why you can’t? How can you recreate this now? Play can mean reading, knitting, dancing, drawing, having a snowball fight, joining a pick-up sports team, it can even just mean talking with your pet as if they were real, watching comedy or even- (get ready for some bravery) joining a comic improve class.
If you have kids in your life, they are the perfect reason to get silly. Stop worrying about looking cool and get your silly on. Make silly faces, put on some Prince or some Michael Jackson on and dance around (kids these days need a good music education:), read silly books and do the voices of the characters, paint with them.
And guess what? You just might have a happier marriage and better productivity at work. You might have a little finger paint on your tie, but it will totally be worth it.