Lately, I have been pondering the value of play. Children play endlessly and without being prompted. Something happens as we age, and play no longer holds a logical place in our schedule because …why? I wonder if it is due to productivity, perhaps our dependency on productivity. One’s desire for completion in a to-do list certainly doesn’t encourage half an hour to go play a game of four square. But doesn’t that sound fun? In public schools, there is a designated time set for playing. Without looking through research studies, I know that for my fourth-grade self recess got me through the day. I was a better student in the afternoon with running around after lunch. Is my adult self really that much different? Do I still need to play?
I have repeatedly spoken to my friend about my burnout and ‘needing a break’. Over the past year, I think it has come up three separate times in a way that made me feel like I was having deja vu. The conversation starts and I lead with “I just feel like I need a vacation. You know, a recharge.”. I hear the words coming out of me and recognize the truth but also the lack of sustainability in my everyday schedule. If I get to this exhausted state needing a vacation every four months what am I doing wrong? Hmm, that sounds heavy with blame. let me add some compassion. How could I live differently in these four months that wouldn’t result in me needing a vacation?
I acknowledge that there is some possibility of a duplicated mistake if I return to a duplicated problem. What is the mistake? In reflecting on this later in the day, I defensively log my accomplishments in recent months.
I analyzed my winter schedule, reassuring myself with lists of productivity. However, in our conversation earlier my friend’s response echoed in my mind. She questioned lightly “When do you play?”.
My thought in return. Play? What a foreign topic. What good is play? Why would I need to play when I have so much I need to have done? This is revealing in itself because my language does not say “I have so much I want to do”.
Brene Brown presents the value of play in everyday life for adults and how it improves their whole well-being. In her new book Atlas of the Heart, Brene described playing as a key factor in wholehearted living. Brene Brown shared some details about her detailed study of people who did and did not live wholeheartedly. What I learned from her presented findings was that Individuals who make time for consistent play live more joyful lives. Individuals who do not make time for play are more likely to experience burnout. No recess for fourth graders and I can imagine a difficult classroom by 2:00 pm. Adults are not new animals compared to grade school years. Adults are evolved children, perhaps our need for play evolves rather than disappears.
Since the conversation with my friend and reading Brene Brown’s work I have observed people around me and their ability to play. I genuinely believe that people who play smile more.
When one plays a tennis match or enjoys bowling doesn’t it seem natural to find them smiling? If instead one is doing the dishes or cooking dinner fueled by urgency it seems less likely to be smiling. Smiling is a really beautiful act in itself. Are you smiling right now reading this?
Imagine you were given the task of writing up a scene in a school play. The only requirement is that all actors needed to smile in the scene. What would you write? What would make you smile?
I have logged my own actions this past week with play in mind. I have all but counted my smiles. It doesn’t come naturally to me to want to play. Instead, I seek to produce and accomplish. I asked questions to reveal why I need to be so productive all the time. Why am I hesitant to play?
It is simple. What came in response is that my worth has always been derived from what I can do for others. If I make time to play it oddly feels as if I will be worth measurably less by taking a break or serving myself. I might even be defined as selfish. What a heavy load.
If my child were to have the same dilemma of burnout based on earning their worth through work I would advise them with compassion. With this thought, I try to produce a kind worded encouragement for my child in thirty years and take that advice myself.
My advice would be…
Your worth is a part of you. It can not be stripped away or proven. Just by showing up, you are worthy. When you serve and produce it is not that you are worth more. You cannot spend all of your time revealing yourself. You must also develop yourself. Your worth is inherent, a permanent piece of you. Please take time to enjoy yourself. It is your right. Take deep breaths and do something for the sake of wanting to do it, NOT wanting it done. Leave your chores and find that 12-year-old inside who wants to _____. You fill in the blank. Want to paint a canvas? Go for a swim? Start a dodgeball game… a league? DO it. Life is so worth living and lots of the living is found in your smiles and laughter. Start your day with I want to feel _____ today and then build some activities around that.
When I feel indecisive and need wisdom I think about what I would advise my children to do in this scenario and it becomes clear with abounding compassion.
With this in mind, I am going to model for my children what it looks like to prioritize fun. Not weekly but every day. Cooking dinner can be fun or a chore. But seeking out fun in a way that isn’t productive in any way feels like the real ticket to a smile for me. I need to let loose with absolutely no element of service.
Doing something frivolous with my time and all fun is wildly valuable. Bowling. Painting. Even dancing to my favorite music and seeing who joins me in the living room.
Self-care can feel like just one more thing to do. Are we jumping into something because it needs to be done or because we are passionate about doing it and have been looking forward to it?
I am a firm believer that we all need something to look forward to in the near future. A trip. A project. A party. Anything that makes us excited to be alive is worth penciling in on the calendar.
We often plan in depth for weddings and funerals but there is a lot of life between those two common milestones. Why not plan more parties? Why not plan for the fun things and not just the common milestones?
We have so much to celebrate in being here, in surviving yesterday. Let’s invest in our smiles and put some plans down.
What comes up for you? What does play look like? Something that will make you laugh or smile or maybe something you would deem as irresponsible but really want to try?
Maybe we all already know. Some people I have asked have even responded with well I know what would be fun but that’s crazy and who has the time? Is it so bad to be a little crazy with our lives? Being alive gives us the right to use our deeply valuable time to smile. Our duty to happiness is first to ourselves. I don’t want to “need a vacation.” all the time. I’d rather build a life I am excited to wake up for more days than I am not.
I hope you spend some time on yourself today. I hope your calendar has something fun on it coming up. I hope it makes you smile with anticipation. I am signing off and headed to the arts and craft store to begin some fun.