the gift of playfulness

Playfulness, like the kind of playfulness I described in yesterday’s post, isn’t really an achievement. It’s a gift. Let me say that again. Playfulness isn’t an achievement, it’s a gift. And that gift comes to those who choose to receive it.

Even though I rigorously claim that “the playful path is the shortest road to happiness,” it often happens that we don’t choose to be playful. We could, but we don’t. Maybe we’re not happy enough. Maybe some perverse part of ourselves is having more fun being miserable. But even the best of us, even the most professionally playful of us, forget to be playful. And even though we have the choice and we know we have the choice, we simply can’t get ourselves to play. We can’t act playfully, or feel playful or be playful.

Those are the times when it’s clearest:

Playfulness is not an achievement. It’s a gift.

In fact, I bet you could say the same thing about happiness.


  1. Lily on June 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Agreed. Achievement implies work. Playfulness isn’t something we have to work for, it’s something we already have

    Love and laughter,

  2. Shelly Immel on June 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    I see playfulness as both a gift and a habit that can be cultivated or squashed. Your comparison to happiness is a great parallel, Bernie.

    There are steps we can take to increase our happiness (exercise, centralize rewarding activities, participate in our social networks, etc.). There are steps we can take to decrease our happiness (don’t exercise, do drone work we don’t enjoy, isolate ourselves, hold on to regrets / bitterness). This is my personal experience, and also validated by research. (I shared a G+ post on this last week. Also, Rick Foster & Greg Hicks have published multiple books and studies on this.)

    In my personal experience, playfulness seems very similar. I can cultivate and reinforce my playfulness (making me as receptive to the gift as possible), or I can downplay / ignore it until my plastic brain learns not to pay any attention to my playful impulses.

    That’s why I started a 4-week Play Challenge on my blog – to make a point of playing at least 3 times a day for 4 weeks. I’m almost halfway through, and I like what it’s done for me so far. I notice more opportunities to play, I’m more determined to create opportunities to play, and I’m more able to relax in between (as opposed to being so task-driven that I feel like I have to go do something on my To Do list). I expected the first 2; that last one is an unlooked for but very welcome benefit.

    I agree that some people are given a more generous dollop of playfulness at birth. But all of us can choose how we exercise whatever amount of playfulness we start with, and that makes a big difference in how our lives feel.

    Also, the belief that we can change our circumstances is highly empowering in any area of our lives: play, happiness, health, relationships, career, the world. This belief encourages, even demands, a deep-seated creativity that supports a fundamental kind of play – tinkering with our lives to take risks, explore, try new things. If we believe we are what we receive and can’t change it, we forgo this impetus to create our lives, to live fully.

    Okay, this has gone far beyond the original point you raised. But as you can see, this is more than an abstract discussion to me, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I am passionate about creativity, playfulness, personal agency and the doors they open to us.

    Thanks for playing, Bernie! As always, I appreciate the work (and play) you’re doing.

    • Bernie DeKoven on June 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks, Shelly, for your contribution to this discussion – for actually making it into a discussion rather than a post with comments.

      When I observed that playfulness or happiness is a gift, I didn’t mean to imply that it is the “gifted” who receive it. But that these things are gifts. They come from somewhere else. And, from time to time, we actually are present enough to receive them. And, as you so describe so well, the paths to happiness and playfulness are the same. We can’t make ourselves playful or happy. But we can remind ourselves to be present, and learn to recognize those gifts when they are given, and, most importantly, to accept them.

  3. Shelly Immel on June 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Cultivating internal pathways and presence / mindfulness so that something greater can come through us – makes perfect sense to me, Bernie.

    I do see playfulness and happiness as gifts in the sense that they are blessings. Creativity fits on that list, too, I think. I’ll go one further and say that practicing any of these things can be a kind of active prayer of gratitude, joy and connection that embodies the thing prayed for, and helps sustain its presence (or recurrence) in our lives.

    Thanks for starting and continuing the discussion!

    • Bernie DeKoven on June 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      Yes, and yes, and, of course, yes.

      I guess what I want to emphasize (not because it’s different from what you are saying or have said, but because it needs emphasizing) is that I don’t think we can make ourselves happy, or playful, or creative, even. I also don’t believe we can arrive at those states by trying to change ourselves. And certainly not by trying to discipline ourselves. I think these states come and go, and what makes them come more often is that when we recognize them, we acknowledge their presence; when we feel them, we nurture them; when we become them, we celebrate them.

  4. Shelly Immel on June 24, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Discipline is such a double-edged sword. An aid to help us accomplish what we want to do; or a flail to beat ourselves down when we slip. I have found discipline in the first sense can help me get going in a new direction, but welcoming, nurturing, and celebrating are the only ways to invite happiness, play, creativity, etc. back over and over.

    Onward with the celebration!

    I’ve really enjoyed this discussion, Bernie. I’ll ping back to it in my next blog post, which will go live Tuesday. :-)

  5. Rachél ~ Creativity Tribe on February 3, 2013 at 5:50 am

    Bernie, was happy to see you sharing your post on the Creativity Tribe’s This Sense-ational Life. You have a great space here!

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