A Counterintuitive Approach to a Happy Life: the Power of Play!

 

I have had a fascination with animals and other cultures since I was a kid, and recently had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream - I went to Africa!!  Through the experience, I reconnected with one of the cornerstones of joy – PLAY! And you can too :) It is one of the most underappreciated keys to a good life - let's explore...

 

Sometimes play gets a bad rap – it can seem frivolous, unimportant and indulgent. Actually, it is quite the opposite – it reenergizes, promotes creativity, and makes you healthier and more productive. In this “always-on” culture, that may be counterintuitive, but it is worth looking at.

 

Have you ever noticed that when you take a break from doing a tedious task, whether it’s to share a joke or go for a walk, you can return to what you were doing with a fresher perspective and more mental agility?

Your mind has had a chance to switch gears, and it becomes more open and sharp at the same time.

 

New Perspective

Have you ever felt overburdened and just could not face a project you were working on, but when you took a break it seemed less daunting? Here’s why:

In a brain imaging study, Mark Beeman, of Northwestern University, found that when the pleasure centers  of the body were activated, this helped participants successfully solve puzzles. It made the challenge easier to accomplish.

 

Creativity

Similarly, in a flow state, where hours feel like minutes and you are completely immersed in an activity you enjoy, you are not only released from mental stresses and worry, it activates the alignment and creativity sometimes described as being in the zone.

 

The best athletes, (playing sports) or musicians (playing music) are in the flow state too. They make the cross-court shot; they feel the music flowing through them. When you are 100% fully present in the moment, you tap into an alignment - this is play at its most inspired.

When is a time that you tapped into this feeling? Do more of it!

 

On my trip, I had a chance to be fully in the moment, up close and personal with animals I had only seen in books and was able to spend some time with a Zulu medicine woman (Sangoma) who felt like a long lost sister. It was AWE-mazing to see them up close and personal... fun, fascinating and filled with wonder. We don't get enough of that. Here are a few pix, to give you the flavor.

The interesting thing is that coming back, I feel a renewed sense of enthusiasm and can accomplish more in less time. Which leads us to...

 

Productivity

It is so important to take “play breaks,” or do some movement especially at times when you think you have too much to do. Why? It will make you more productive. Psychology professor Alejandro Lleras says: "From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"

 

Longer hours on the task does not equate with more results. When Microsoft Japan introduced a 4 day work week, 92% of all employees were pleased with their improved work-life balance, and they saw productivity rise 40%. Yes, you read that right!

 

Health

Play leads to laughter, and laughter decreases stress hormones, increases endorphins, and promotes the feeling of connection.  The American Heart Association recommends laughter for a healthy heart as research has shown that laughter reduces artery inflammation. It also and strengthens immune system to keep you healthier.

 

Give yourself permission to play

Instead of viewing it as a waste of time, see it as an investment of time that will yield a fabulous ROI: better health, a new perspective, more creativity, productivity, and joy. Find your favorite way to play, or try something new – novelty is powerful to throw into the mix – and be prepared to actually enjoy your life even more. Schedule these times into your calendar – you will notice the difference.

 

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