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Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Headshot

The Essential Ingredient You May Be Missing for Happiness

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Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder." As we get older this statement may seem to ring true more often, but it doesn't have to be this way.

With children, research has shown that play has a significant impact on physical, cognitive, emotional, and social health. Why would it be different for us adults? How do we bring this mental health boosting attitude back into our lives?

John Kelly, a sociologist, once said,

"Adults need to play. We are working creatures, we are bonding creatures, and we are playing creatures."

Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association and author of Authentic Happiness, says that the three pillars of mental health are love, work, and play. In a blog post, Therese Borchard interviewed fellow blogger John McManamy to bring up the value of play in relation to our mental health.

When we were all kids, play seemed to come so easy, but as our lives started to become busier and "more serious" it started to move lower down on the totem pole of "important" things to do, and soon it was off the list. He also notes that when adults engage in play nowadays, we may do it with ulterior motives to meet or network with a person, which alters the true nature of play.

There has been a growing trend in research in the field of positive psychology that is looking at the health benefits of adult play. Play can engage that sense of flow, where your abilities meet the challenge of the task and cultivate positive qualities. Not only can engaging in play help reduce stress, but in my experience it can also give us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction or mastery that support us working with anxiety and depression.

The theme of this blog is mindfulness and psychotherapy. When I teach people about integrating mindfulness into their lives I underscore that while mindfulness can be considered a discipline, it is a playful discipline. This is a grounding theme in The Now Effect.

How can we engage play once again and come back in touch with the wonder of life, which can be so healing?

Here are some tips:

  1. No Goal Attitude -- John McManamy, along with many others, have suggested for years, "play for the sake of play." That's right: Don't have a goal in mind when playing. Just engage play and know you're playing.
  2. Get On Your Hands and Knees -- Somehow as adults we feel this is beneath us or not acceptable. This is particularly helpful if you have any pets or children. Get down on the ground and engage with them, be present, and see how you feel.
  3. Laughing Yoga -- This has been known to be contagious and bring about a great sense of play.
  4. Play Activities -- Start to think about what past hobbies you enjoyed or what activities you are currently doing that incorporate playfulness. Make a list of these activities. Next time you engage in these, remember rule #1.
  5. Vacation -- This doesn't have to be elaborate. It could be just a day or an afternoon. Take a day for its own sake and do something you've wanted to do for fun but have just not gotten around to. You can choose to do this by yourself or with other people. Make a date for this today!

Incorporating just a bit more play in your life, or even changing the way your relate to playful activities that you're already doing, can have great benefits in your life. Choose to sprinkle some of this in today.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interactions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.

For more by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., click here.

For more on happiness, click here.

For more on stress, click here.

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