by Lila Lazarus
Back in college my nickname was “Dr. Fun.” I was always looking for ways to make the day, the English assignment or just dinner in the cafeteria more of an adventure. I was constantly conjuring up plans to go sledding or hiking or bike-riding. I’d instigate a late-night pillow fight in the dorm. My parents weren’t always so enthused when they heard about my escapades. They wanted to be sure I was focused on work, productivity and a solid grade-point average. But actually, I think I was on to something at an early age that I haven’t let go of. I love to play.
Just like sleep and good nutrition, play is crucial to our physical and mental health. Having more fun was probably not one of your New Year’s resolutions, but it should have been. There’s plenty of research that shows the value of being more playful in both your personal and professional life. Play is not a waste of time. It’s an investment in your well-being. If you think you’re too old for play, then it’s time to change your mindset. That’s a dangerous outlook. A life without fun and frivolous activity is likely filled with too much stress, mental tension and more likely to engage in addictive behaviors. Play is what keeps you young and healthy. It’s OK to get older, but adding play to your life will keep you from getting old. It gives you a feeling of vitality and energy.
We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. – George Bernard Shaw
My husband calls me the world’s oldest 8-year old, since I can’t pass a slide at a playground without going for a ride. I’m always sneaking up on people or encouraging a game of hide-and-seek. If there’s a tree, I’ll climb it. If there’s a puddle, I’ll jump in it. If there’s a hula hoop, I’ll take it for a spin. I bring three balls and juggle at the airport while waiting to board a flight. (I really do.) I give talks on how to add adventure to your life. I explain the importance of creating an adventure every single day. Adventure is just a fancy word for play. It involves a bit of surprise and unpredictability.
Just thinking about play makes me happy. It keeps me optimistic. And the goofier the play, the better. You don’t have to organize a snowball fight (though that sounds fun to me!) Just get up and start to wiggle. Yes, wiggle. It’s hard to wiggle without a giggle. It definitely leads to instantaneous fun – especially if you do it in front of coworkers. If you think that suggestion is silly, you’re right. I love silly. In fact, the word silly comes from the German word selig, which means, “to be blessed.” When you are playful and silly, you are blessed.
Being more playful and having fun leads to so many positive outcomes. You’ll be happier. Your social life will improve. Your relationships will be better. And yes, you’ll be more focused, productive and successful. If you get your coworkers to be more playful, they’ll likely be more creative and cooperative.
As adults, Americans have less and less time to play. In the last 30 years we’ve increased the amount of time we spend on the job by 10 hours a week. And very few, if any, companies encourage playtime inside the work day. Just like my parents thought way back when, playtime is thought of as something unproductive. But playtime is crucial to productivity. You should have it on your schedule.
If you want to rekindle the spark in your marriage…play.
If you want to create a stronger relationship with co-workers…set up a play date.
Do something just for pleasure with no set goal in mind. And make sure it’s completely unnecessary. It’s the unnecessary characteristic of play that is the most necessary part. Try to remember what you considered fun as a kid and do that. And when you choose your friends, choose playful ones.
How about a game of tag? You’re it.