Taking Playfulness to Heart

Young woman having fun swinging on a spring sunny day(based on a speech I recently gave)

Who would love to go the park and play on the swings or go down the slide? Who would love to play with some finger paints?  Who would like to build a spaceship out of cardboard boxes or grab some sidewalk chalk and draw?

It’s experiences like these that help us embrace our inherent playfulness.  This is important because in recent years more and more psychologists have discovered that playful people tend to have higher levels of what I like to call Life Enhancing Characteristics.  You can also think of them as useful personality traits or life skills.

One such psychologist, Rene’ T. Proyer in a paper about the well-being of playful adults noted that it has already been shown that playfulness has a strong correlation with:  intrinsic motivation, creativity and spontaneity, positive attitudes towards the workplace or job satisfaction, and academic achievement; as well as a greater quality of life, flow experiences, and the pleasurable or engaged life. This is by no means a complete list, but it does serve to illustrate how cultivating a playful perspective can be beneficial.  Let’s look at three of these benefits.

Connection:  Playful people tend to have better relationships and find it easier to relate to and get along with others.  The hypnotist and blogger Adam Eason listed connection as one of the 11 advantages of being playful in his article “How and Why to Be More Playful and Childlike”  #6 is “Interpersonal Connections Bloom. When you play, share laughter, share fun, it’s a very intimate way to connect with those around you.  This naturally enhances trust, creates healthy bonds, develops friendships in ways that are robust and beautiful. Later he states that “a healthily playful mindset . . can improve personal and professional relationships.”

Flexibility:  Now I’m not talking a physical flexibility here; the sort you need to scrub your own back or do Yoga.  I’m talking about mental flexibility; or what psychologists refer to as Cognitive Flexibility.  The frame of mind that makes it easier to with change, to deal with obstacles; to roll with the punches; to be open to new ideas, information, or perspectives.

Why would this be?  Consider that playfulness as defined by psychologist L.A. Barnet is “The predisposition to frame (or reframe) a situation in such a way to provide oneself(or other) with amusement humor and/or entertainment”.  Framing is a psychological term that means “The process of defining the context or event in a way to influence how the context or issues are seen and evaluated”.

It is not much of a stretch to go from the ability to reframe things so that they are more entertaining, to reframing an experience or situation so that it’s less problematical and more beneficial.

Creativity coach and facilitator Aaron Rees at Openforideas.org wrote in his article “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Playful”:  “Remaining playful under pressure is a way of telling the world, and reminding yourself, that you are free.  You may be dealing with extraordinary things but that does not mean you are trapped by them.  And by embracing that freedom, you can find solutions that a mirthless mind would not see”.

Creativity:  There is a very strong connection between playfulness and creativity.  I learned this when I was in my 20’s.  I became fascinated with creativity; reading many books on the subject; both theory and practice.  All of the best practical advice, all of those exercises and games that facilitate a creative frame of mind are playful.  One of my favorite authors Roger von Oech who wrote a book “A Whack on the Side of the Head:  how to be more creative” one of his favorite hacks (he calls them Whacks) is Try a Random Idea.

He explains it like this:  “There once was a Native Medicine Man who made hunting maps for his tribe.  When game got scarce he’d put a piece of fresh leather in the sun to dry.  Then he’d fold and twist it, and then smooth it out.  The rawhide was now etched with lines.  He marked some reference points, and a new map was created.  When the hunters followed the map’s newly defined trails, they usually discovered abundant game.  Moral:  by letting the rawhide’s random folds represent trails, he pointed the hunters to places they hadn’t looked.  Stimulate your thinking in a similar way.  Open any book at random and put your finger down on a word:  “magnet.”  How does it relate to what you’re doing?  What association s can you make?”  Now I think that is Very playful!  😄

Dave Birss in his article How Play Leads to Great Invention at Openforideas.org writes:  “A playful state is a curious state.  Simple delight and amusement can lead to breakthroughs that applied effort and direct thinking just won’t get you.”

These are just three ways that being playful is beneficial; and we continue to discover more dividends of playfulness.

Once you understand the connections between playfulness and Life Enhancing Characteristics it is simple step to becoming more playful.  The two ingredients required to increasing your playful aptitude is a willingness to embrace that part of yourself and . .TO PLAY.

SO LET’S PLAY!!!     😀

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