There is nothing I love more than hearing my kids laugh. Really laugh. Uncontrollable laughter that can only come when they're having fun and just living in the moment; absolutely carefree. I'm fortunate that I hear this quite a lot from Liam and Caitlyn, despite one being a teenager and the other not far off it.
As I ready myself for the year ahead, my task recently was to clear out the garage. Not something I'm well known for doing, and as I pottered about, Caitlyn buzzed around outside on her scooter, then began playing with a small basket ball. I stopped, walked outside and we began tossing the ball to each other. This turned into bounce passes, and then finally I began scooping the ball up in one hand then in the same motion slamming it down into the ground drawing fits of laughter from Caitlyn. This continued for a while, with smiles and laughter from both of us, before Caitlyn jumped on her scooter, and I returned to the tidying.
Something was different. I was happier. And more productive.
There is plenty of research that confirms the benefits of adult play, and Dr Stuart Brown M.D.'s work is nothing short of fascinating. Trained in general medicine, clinical research and psychiatry, Brown first recognised the importance of play by discovering its absence in the life stories of mass murderers. Deprivation of play hinders development of the brain, and Brown states "the opposite of play is not work - it is depression".
As the founder of the National Institute for Play, Brown uses evidentiary science to demonstrate that "Play + Science = Transformation".
His studies of animals as analogues to humans, shows we exhibit and pick up on states of play. In other words we observe in others a playful state which not only allows us to explore the possible, but when conflict arises, can override a 'differential in power' simply by using something that is natural to us - play.
By monitoring activity in the brain when we are in a state of joyful play, the right side of our brain - the creative side - lights up, hence creativity and problem solving is improved. Because of this, many organisations, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, won't hire students who haven't demonstrated use of their hands to fix things as they are generally not good problem solvers.
So what is play? Dr Brown describes various forms: body play (leaping around - changing our physiology and therefore our state), object play (using your hands), curiosity and exploration, social play (enabling us to belong), rough and tumble play (prevalent in the animal world), spectator and ritual play (going to the footy), imaginative or solo play, and the internal narrative or story.
So to neoteny - the retention of immature qualities into adulthood. Of all creatures, human beings are the most neotenous, the most playful, and therefore creative and adaptable. Yet as we grow older, we suppress this natural instinct.
George Bernard Shaw said "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
In 2017, I'm going to make time to play, to be more neotenous, and I'm going to be more aware of taking the chance to play spontaneously as this can only enhance my creativity and adaptability in changing times, and reduce depressive thoughts.
What do you do for play? What's your most joyful, playful image as far back as you can remember? How will you incorporate play into the year ahead?
Leave a comment to start a conversation and don't forget to live your dreams.
Today the sun sets on 2016. Typically tonight we will reflect on the year gone by and imagine the year ahead. And it's a good time to look back, a good time to plan, and invariably time to set resolutions. Over the last week, we've watched the news programs run the 'year that was' segments, and yes it's been a tough year. Terror attacks, natural disasters and celebrity deaths. For us children growing up in the Eighties, we've lost icons we may have idolised, we've lost artists we sang along with, that created memories of school dances and first kisses. David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, and Gene Wilder as my all time favourite, Willy Wonker, are a handful that impacted me personally.
Yes, 2016 has been a bad year. Much of it is beyond our individual control, yet it impacts us emotionally.
So let's look at our own lives and examine what's in our control. This often helps us to determine our resolutions. Ever noticed how they're generally based on things we don't like about ourselves or things that went wrong? Stop smoking, lose weight, drink less... When have you ever created a resolution something along the lines of 'I resolve to continue being a great friend'?
I looked back at my 2016, and yeah, it was pretty bad - not earth-shatteringly bad - but at times it's been up there. Depression returned, my job and role is going through massive change without the clarity I need, and I travelled way too much leaving me away from my family. Let's flip it though - or reframe it. In 2016 I understood depression more and could help others, and at years end, I found medication that appears to work. Change in the work environment provides new opportunities to grow, and travel has exposed me to new experiences and people.
Now I'm not getting all happy clappy on you and suggest you reframe every negative. You could, but I'm not always up for it. So look deeper for other things that went well. For me, I grew friendships that enhance my life, I found hobbies that I never thought I'd love, and my family has always had my back. So my resolutions this year will be to do more of the same, and yes I want to stop some things too.
We must look to the negatives to learn and change, and we must also congratulate ourselves on the positives so we can continue them.
Over to you. And as the sun sets on 2016, sure take a moment to think about what wasn't great about it, just don't dwell on it. After all, when you pick a bad movie on Netflix, the last thing you'd do is download it again. Take more time to pick a new movie, or an even better sequel by thinking consciously about what went well. Allow this to launch you into a better year as the sun rises on 2017.
I'd love you to comment below on what you'll take out of 2016 that propels you into 2017 (click on the 'comments' link).
Have a safe and happy New Year and live your dreams.