Playfulness is one of the things that seem to disappear from life as we grow up. We get pressured to be serious, deliberate, and mature. We tweak and trim our behavior until it fits what we think it means to act like a grown up. We never feel like one, though, and we look around and wonder how everyone else is so grown-up and if we’ll ever feel that way, while they secretly wonder the same thing.
WikiHow, in an article called How to Know When You Are Grown Up (I am not kidding), claims the hallmarks of reaching this mythical grown-up land include seriousness, thinking about the future, focusing on career, keeping the house tidier, using “sir” or “madam” instead of “dude” when addressing someone, and having to wear glasses to read. Oh, and no more “aimless meandering.”
Evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray says the studies show with less play there is an increase in anxiety, depression, and narcissism, and a decrease in empathy and creativity. At least that’s what’s happening with kids over the last 50 years as the amount of play time has decreased and become more regimented and less spontaneous. And depressed, narcissistic kids don’t make for very happy adults when they grow up.
“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.” —Brian Sutton Smith
As a child I was often told I was mature and serious. I wore these projections with pride. I excelled at school. I had boyfriends older than me. I worked hard. I shunned silliness. But some spark of doing things for the fun of it remained. There were parts of me that never lost their fondness for fireworks, bubbles, and dancing, perhaps because of my mom, who has not lost her playful streak to this day.
A few years ago I started to feel like this grown-up thing was missing something. So I decided to let some of that playfulness into my life. Or, rather, to let parts of me come out to play a bit more.
The voices in my head feared I would become unproductive (a crime against humanity), stagnant (like a smelly swamp), and undignified (how embarrassing!), but this hasn’t happened. Instead, the playfulness has emerged with softness and a smirk. I’m quicker to smile, I spend time staring at the sky, I dance when I walk, I sing nonsense words spontaneously, I eat with my hands.
And guess what? I’m having FUN! (All caps and exclamation point intentional, grammar friends.) I haven’t regressed; I’ve become more whole and complete, and more open to the seemingly endless nuances of being human. Now that’s the grown-up life I want to live.
Tell me how you add pockets of playfulness to your life.