The mood in our country has been rather serious lately. You don't need me to remind you of the various storms, metaphorical and actual, that have been battering our psyches.
But sometimes, in the face of challenges, what we are called to do is not to be more earnest or to work harder, but rather to return to being childlike. This is a state in which we are able to live in the moment and feel grateful for the bounties of our lives -- in spite of the hardships we face. Sometimes play is the best antidote of all. Laughter rescues us and creativity gives us back our freedom.
Play is perhaps one of the most overlooked and underappreciated Habits of Love. For some, it is hard to live this habit because it feels selfish, immature or inappropriate. When life is somber, it may feel indulgent or impossible to laugh. And yet, embracing a childlike spontaneity and joy is likely the very habit that will help us become more optimistic and light-hearted -- and therefore more generous, constructive and effective.
Play is healing, and surely healing can never be bad.
Becoming More Childlike
The Habit of Play returns us to our loving selves by awakening our sense of childlikeness, which is marked by joy, freshness, imagination and movement. We are making an important distinction, of course, between childlikeness and childishness.
Childlikeness is play-oriented and generous whereas childishness is defined by an inability to take responsibility and to see beyond our needs alone.
Children have an exquisite capacity to play, imagine, create stories and to connect with nature, art and ritual. When children move into an imaginative space in their minds and spirits, a world of possibility and promise opens up for everyone.
When I invite play into my life, I am better able to help others. I am better at problem solving and thinking both independently and inventively. Play enables me to live with childlike optimism and munificence. It opens both my heart and my mind.
Putting It Into Practice
The Habit of Play allows us to step away from the ever-present anxiety that gnaws at us and wears us down, and can lead us to make poor decisions that are based on fear.
Yet play can be complicated for some of us. And it's not always evident when play is called for and when it is inappropriate. But it is indisputable that the spirit of play gives us a truer and more useful perspective on the world by helping rid us of our tendency to put ourselves at the heart of every equation. In engaging in play, we are saying, I am human; I am fallible; we are all in the same boat.
How can we embrace play more readily and appropriately? Here are some ideas:
Approach life with the spirit of a learner. Ask yourself, what can I learn from this experience?
- Think back to some moments when you were being childlike, both when you were a child and when you were an adult. Try to remember how your body felt during those moments.
- When introducing an element of play in order to lift the mood socially or at work, always focus on yourself as opposed to anyone else.
- Though it seems counterintuitive, play can and should be practiced. Phyllis Diller once advised, "Learn one or two jokes and practice them the next time you're in a social situation. Feel how good it feels to laugh and to make others laugh." The great comics know that practicing the Habit of Play is essential.
- Spend time with children during which you observe and learn from them, rather than the other way around.
- When you've made a mistake, acknowledge it with humor. No one is so very important that they cannot make a mistake every now and then. When you can accept with humility or humor that you are imperfect, you let people know you are human -- just like they are.
- Consider ways to invite Play into your work life. Could you suggest a dart board in the cafeteria? A night out for your team members? A game of bowling for the support staff? An all-staff night at a karaoke bar?
- If you tend to be a serious type, ask yourself who from your own community of playful friends can call you out to play -- both literally and emotionally? Intentionally spend more time with those playful friends.
Lightness In Your Heart
It is only human to become anxious about our disappointments or sorrows. These difficult feelings reveal that we care deeply, we are alive and sentient. The kind of resilience and suppleness engaged by the Habit of Play is totally compatible with the range of our human emotions.
If you have been visited by sadness, hardship or disappointment, I encourage you to find a way to laugh again. It will rebuild your spirit and give you the energy of Love, an energy that flows outward from our hearts toward others. And in this way, the Habit of Play is not an egotistical act, but one of compassion and charity toward your fellow human beings.