The Importance of Playfulness
True joy and fulfillment come when you can see that life must be lived with purpose and seriousness, while at the same time being able to laugh at the meaningless of it all.
It all seems so serious. The pandemic. Our politics. Your job. Being a parent. Making that big presentation to your board, or your boss, or a client. There is a weight to life – a heaviness to it all. You can see it on people’s faces. In the way they walk and carry themselves. There is a sense of angst and dread associated with life that is undeniable.
I believe we massively over-index on seriousness. We have largely forgotten what it feels like to be playful. We have lost the sense of wonder we all had as children. The ability to be carefree and joyful, rid of the anxiety that seems to plague us as adults.
This is one of the great paradoxes of life. On the one hand, there are real consequences to our actions and decisions. Life deserves to be lived purposefully and with meaning. On the other hand, when you think about it, nothing you do is really that meaningful in the grand scheme of things. This is the great cosmic joke. True joy and fulfillment come when you can see that life must be lived within this paradox. To be able to live with purpose and seriousness, while at the same time being able to laugh at the meaningless of it all. There is a lightness in the ability to hold these opposing views as true at the same time. Paradoxically, playfulness provides access to the results that most serious people struggle to achieve. This is what I believe James Carse was pointing to in his wonderful book Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility:
To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence. It is, in fact, seriousness that closes itself to consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility. To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.
If you are experiencing heaviness in any part of your life right now, my bet is that it is due, in some measure, to a lack of playfulness. Yes, your job is important. The responsibility you hold as a parent is stressful. There are family issues that need to be resolved. The current social and political issues matter. But it’s equally true that all of these things are unimportant. Absurdly so. Being able to see this paradox is the antidote to the stress and angst of everyday living and the key to unlocking joy and fulfillment. This week, see if you can reclaim just a little bit of the playfulness you were born with and bring some laughter and lightness to your small corner of the world. You deserve it, and the world needs it.
Arthur Brooks strikes again with a really thoughtful column on the need to balance two competing schools of finding happiness – Stoicism and Epicureanism.
I’ve been using a new app called MoodMeter. It’s been an incredibly useful tool to increase my emotional literacy and self-awareness. Thanks to my friend (and reader of this weekly email) Pete for sharing it with me.
A quote I’ve been pondering this week: “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” Paul Batalden