play, laughter, health and happiness

by Bernie DeKoven

In the process of growing up, most people lose touch with the sources of their personal power. Those sources: play and laughter, especially when they are whole-hearted, whole-minded, whole -bodied. When people play and laugh, and play and laugh fully, and especially when they play and laugh playfully, they are engaged, involved, in charge.

That’s it. That’s all you need to know. As long as you are playing playfully and laughing playfully, the Playful Path is more likely than not to be the path you’re on. And as long as you stay on the Playful Path, you make even the daily game more fun.

That’s the thing about the Playful Path. As soon as you stop playing, or stop laughing fully, or stop playing playfully, suddenly you’re somewhere else, on some other kind of path, a path that is most definitely not a playful one and ultimately not particularly fun.

There’s a direct connection between the experiences of alienation and stress and the amount of enjoyment people have. Simply put, the more alienated and stressed people are, the less fun they seem to be having, the less playful they seem to be.

Whoever chooses to respond playfully can be said to be a “traveler on the Playful Path” – someone making, having and being fun.

What is odd, especially to those of us who have, from time to time, walked that very same Playful Path to which I herein allude, is that people would choose any other way to experience the world. Why would you not want to follow the Playful Path? What other path is better designed to take you to happiness? What more reliable guide to happiness than fun and creativity, spontaneity and responsiveness, laughter and silliness?

Traveling the Playful Path is a kind of whole person, whole community, whole society, whole world yoga with laughter and games and exercises and studies and arts that help you create a daily game that is more fun for you and the world.

Laughter

It seems to me that the whole idea of “laughing for no reason” and all the documented good that comes from doing just that, is exactly that – an invitation to return to the Playful Path.

I have one more such invitation. Today, I’m calling it “playing for no reason.” Because, like what happens when we laugh for no reason, when we play for no reason we are reminded of how easy it can be for us to bring a new level of vitality to ourselves and each other, to our significant others and all they signify, to those we care for and care for us.

Playing for no reason, playing what I call “pointless games,” we rediscover:

  • the art and science of fun
  • how we can make things more fun for ourselves, and everyone around us

Playing and laughing together, especially when we play and laugh in public, for no reason, is a profound, and, oddly enough, political act.

Political, because when we play or dance or just laugh in public, people think there’s something wrong with us. It’s rude, they think. Childish. A disturbance of the peace.

Normally, they’d be right. Except now. Now, the peace has been deeply disturbed – everywhere, globally. And what those grown-ups are doing, playing, dancing, laughing in public is not an act of childish discourtesy, but a political act – a declaration of freedom, a demonstration that we are not terrorized, that terror has not won.

A Frisbee, in the hands of people in business dress in a public park, is a weapon against fear. A basketball dribbled along a downtown sidewalk, is a guided missile aimed at the heart of war. Playing with a yo-yo, a top, a kite, a loop of yarn in a game of cats’ cradle, all and each a victory against intimidation. Playing openly, in places of business, in places where we gather to eat or travel or wait, is a gift of hope, an invitation to sanity in a time when we are on the brink of global madness.

Yes, I admit, I am a professional advocate of public frolic. I am a teacher in the art of fun. I hawk my playful wares every time I get a chance, with every audience I can gather, war or peace.

But this is a unique moment in our evolution. America is no longer bounded by its boundaries. We are tied into a network of terror that crosses national divisions with such consummate ease that we are as unsafe in our office towers as Israelis in a supermarket. We have been told that we are at some kind of war against some kind of terror. We are cautioned, daily, that none of us safe. We have to protect the peace.

And I believe that we have far more powerful weapons than any military solution can offer us. And I believe that those weapons can be found in any neighborhood playground or toy store.

Like for play, laughter is also a political act, a declaration that fear and terrorism have not won. Incontrovertible evidence that there is hope.

Health

Playfulness is one of the signs scientists look for when trying to determine the health of a herd of animals. The healthier the animals and the safer the herd, the more they play.

The same is true of the human herd. Especially herds of children. As long as the kids are healthy and feeling safe, left to their own resources, play is the thing they do.

Adults of the herd play less, at least observably, because for the most part they are not as healthy and definitely not as safe as they were when they were children. And when they are being playful, they tend to feel healthier, safer, almost like they did when they were kids, and maybe even better. Simply by playing, they reclaim their health, their community, their well-being, the energy of their youth.

Adult human beings are different than the adults of any other species I can think of, in that they can choose to be playful, even when they don’t feel safe or particularly good.

Happiness

Happiness happens

Like rain happens. And the tide happens.

Happiness has little to do with you or me or my thoughts or your thoughts or anything we can do about them. And the only way we have to find happiness requires us to be there when it happens. Fully present and at our best.

The more we laugh, the more playful we become, the more likely it is that we’re present enough to recognize happiness.

The more fun we have the more likely that we’ll embrace happiness.

The more profoundly playful, the more deeply fun, the more thoroughly we laugh, the more likely we are to be fully there, fully at our best, so happiness happens with us.

Play and laughter are the gateways to health and happiness. As my friend Dr. Brian Sutton-Smith, Defender of the Playful, notes, the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.

Playing together, we discover trust. Laughing together, we discover harmony. Through play and laughter we transcend tragedy, we challenge our physical limits, we celebrate health, we create community, we transform reality.


A Playful Path photoA playful path is the shortest road to happiness.
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