This week I released a new crochet pattern called the Play Time Top. I named it that because I strongly believe that we human adults should take a lead from human children and play a lot more.
There’s a quote I heard once which is thought to have originated from Oscar Wilde’s first play
Life is much too important to be taken seriously
(The original quote was “…life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it”)
This sums up an attitude that has been creeping up on me the past year or so, that ultimately nothing really, matters so we might as well stop worrying and just enjoy life.
Now obviously things matter. Our family matter, our friends matter, food on the table, a roof over our heads, the safety of our kids, the ravaged environment, human rights abuses, democratic governments, peace and love… it all matters.
But more often than not, that’s not what we actually worry about. We worry about “how many likes have I got?”, “do I look stupid?” “what if I fail?”, “what if everyone is better than me?”, “why can’t I afford those shoes?”, “will they call me back?”, “how do I get rid of the bags under my eyes”, “what shall I wear?”… etc. etc.
None of that stuff really matters. It’s all, 100% our ego. It’s also normalised.
We are all have our own version of the tightly wound, neurotic, paranoid, insecure, terrified person in our head. We get so wrapped up in the need to achieve, to do instead of to be, that it’s like we have forgotten how to unwind.
This is why play is so important. Whatever form it takes, throwing shapes on the dance floor, singing karaoke, riding your bike through the woods, horse riding, walking in the country, running, yoga, ballet, painting, building sand castles, dominoes, bouncing on a trampoline… whatever works for you. Make sure you find an outlet where you can just let go and enjoy yourself and forget about all your worries, especially the ones that don’t matter!
The key thing to know about play is that it is not focused on an end goal. The only goal of play is fun.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:
“Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose, take part in (a sport), be cooperative.”
So paint but care not what the end picture looks like, practice yoga for the feel of the movement, not to be able to do a handstand, sing not for an x factor audition but for the emotional outlet, ride your bike not to go anywhere but to feel the wind on your face, build the sand castle knowing it will get washed away… you get the idea!
I was watching my nieces and nephews play in the sprinkler over the weekend. They were in various states of undress, soaking wet and covered in bits of grass and dirt. And they were having the time of their lives. You get to a certain age and it’s like someone whispered an unwritten rule that this kind of behaviour is no longer allowed, abandoning self-consiousness and just having pure fun is somehow frowned upon. It’a almost like we reach adulthood and suddenly think immaturity and playfulness are the same thing. Newsflash – they aren’t!
That play is only for children seems such a pervasive attitude. When I was doing some research for this post, almost every article discussed play in terms of child development. Of course, play is a very powerful tool for learning in social, cognitive and emotional terms, but why do we think that once we reach some arbitrary age this tool no longer works or that we should be embarrassed to use it?
I think this is the premise behind a lot of team building activities, particularly using play to encourage cooperation, problem solving and relationship development. I’m all for that stuff and not just in the corporate world, but in our personal lives too. Relationships benefit hugely from play and most friendships are sustained by activities which involve engaging in play. Even though we know all this, the absence of a focus or a goal means that we feel uncomfortable about taking time out to play, we even call it a guilty pleasure.
Well that guilt can get in the bin right now!!
You see the human desire for play all over the place. Watch people watching street magic or buskers. Go to any festival and you will see the people who are in outlandish dress, messing around and being in the moment, and then you see those people watching them with something akin to envy in their eyes – like they want to have that freedom to join in but they’re just not sure… they still worry they might look stupid!
In my younger years I used to regularly go to a festival called the Secret Garden Party which was all about music and art and silliness. Everyone joined in on some level and everyone was there to play and leave the serious adult world at the gate (Think Burning Man on a smaller scale for the UK home counties!). I always felt strange for a few days when I returned to the real world. Suddenly everything looked so grey and boring!
Oh dear… I took a detour down memory lane looking at old pictures of that festival… so much so I have to share a few… fancy dress, paint fights, weird bird men, the stupid olympics, hula hooping, hay fights, mud wrestling, dancing, doors with no walls… did I mention fancy dress? (I love fancy dress!) …a wonderland of whimsy and pointless fun… it was a shrine to play!
Having been thinking about play for the past week or so, I’ve made a little pact with myself. Every time I find myself getting wrapped up in something that really doesn’t warrant that much stress, I will step back and find a way to play. There are so many ways to inject play into the every day, it might be doing a cartwheel in the meadow outside or cutting up my lunch into stupid shapes, it doesn’t matter what, it just has to be something to shake me out of that place where I think something matters more than it actually does!
If you want to know more of the science behind play, there are some fascinating Ted Talks here about how it can improve your relationships, problem solving skills and increase creativity and are well worth a watch or listen!
I’ll sign off by urging you to have a think about how you can introduce play into your life more. What is it you love to do? What harmless fun can you engage in, even if it’s on the qt?
Once you start, I’m sure you will see the difference it makes to your overall mood as well as those around you. Play is contagious so go out there and start infecting people!
Big playful love