Imagine being about 3 years old. Your mother puts you in the car and starts driving. Being too short to look out the windows, all you can see is a blur of sky and trees swirling past. You have no idea where you are. Eventually the car stops and your mother helps you out – you’re at a playground with 50 other children!
You go nuts. You run around, go down slides, get knocked over, knock other kids over, rest in the grass, dump sand on the girls’ heads, cry, scream, and laugh. Being 3 years old, all of this happens within the span of an hour.
Your mother says it’s time to go. Dragging with exhaustion, you get back in the car and she whisks you off through the swirls back to wherever you came from. You thoroughly enjoyed yourself. Having a good time was the whole point and the trip was a success.
But… that’s not how most of us approach our lives, is it? Instead, we arrive at the playground under the stern supervision of our parents. They say we have the freedom to do whatever we want with the hour, yet they make it clear that it better be something very important. So, we arrive on the grass, think for a moment, and immediately kneel down to count every single blade.
Looking over at the jungle gym, it is completely deserted. In a disturbing picture, all the children are lying in the grass silently counting. No one dares abandon their counting to approach the swings. Who knows what terrible things may happen if you actually use the playground to play.
Then, we’re hauled back into the car and once again swirl through who-knows-where back to home. The feeling this time is much different, isn’t it? We might have an accurate count of the blades of grass, but this means nothing. We’ll likely never see that park again, so who cares how many blades of grass we counted?
It becomes clear that we missed the point. The purpose of the playground was to play!
If you’re not having fun, you’re sort of missing the point of being here. – Esther Hicks
Why So Serious?
I simply don’t understand why someone would take life too seriously. It’s obvious that you will be leaving this playground at some point, probably never to return. So why would you pretend that it is a dreadfully serious experience that must be carried out with the utmost care and worry?
I’m not here to convince you of this mindset, just to share my ideas. Yet, I really see no way of arguing against this philosophy.
Even if the worst possible combination of circumstances did come to pass, it is all just an experience. THE experience. Soon, you’ll get back in the car and think “wow! what an experience at the park!” In fact, the craziest experiences are often the most fun, aren’t they?
You can take this as far as your imagination will go – when can you find an excuse to treat the world as anything but a playground? Even when the situation is life and death. Death is always the inevitable end so taking it seriously is missing the point. In my view, your own experiences are all that really matter. Think about it…
- Your life’s work and contributions will be left to a society that you will never see again. It is only the experiences of contribution that you feel in the moment you are contributing that have any value.
- All the possessions that you so seriously acquired and protected will fall into the hands of other people. Their purpose was to be enjoyed and used while you had them. If they didn’t make your life happier, what was the point?
- Relationships are important, but they never last. You cannot hold onto them. Yet, they provide rich experiences of playfulness, often masked as drama, pain, euphoria, and the like. Regardless of the outcome, the richness of playing and connecting with another person can be cherished forever.
Do you see the point? Everything that we take seriously is totally trivial. Play is the only thing worth taking seriously. At the end of your life, everything you can measure will dissolve. Then, all that matters is how much fun you had creating it.
Let’s look at how play can transform your work and relationships:
The Play of Work
Sometimes I laugh at people who wear suits to work. I want to scream: don’t you realize that 1) you look insanely uncomfortable, 2) your tie serves no practical purpose, 3) you do not need long pants or a jacket at any time of the year in Southern California, and 4) you look exactly like all the other people who are already wearing suits?!
Do they think the suit helps them get more work done or something? I don’t get it… The whole charade must be to make life more difficult and uncomfortable… but I digress.
Imagine a bank’s branch manager (with his suit on, of course) staring gravely at this quarter’s numbers. He is stressed, sleep-deprived, and overworked for something that is absolutely worthless. His life is spent dealing with colored pieces of paper that have no functional or nutritional value. Even worse: he’s dealing with electronic numbers that represent these worthless pieces of paper. This has caused his ulcer and taken him away from his children?
I’m not singling out banks here. Your work, and my work, are equally as useless. That’s the whole point! We do (or should do) the things we do because they’re fun, because they are the best expression of play that we can imagine. I could absolutely see the fun in managing a bank’s balance sheet, but I could never, ever take it as something serious or important.
There are two ways of approaching your work as play, the radical and the subtle:
Radical – Stop doing anything that you do not find the be the most fun and playful way to experience your time. This might mean quitting the mundane job or dramatically transforming the type of work you do. This works really well. When you make a commitment to playing your way through life, everything lines up for you and all the resistance you expected fades away. This option is not for the faint of heart because it takes courage to make that leap.
Subtle – Get creative. Notice that the seriousness is itself a game to be played. The suits are worn precisely because they look ridiculous and it is an inside joke that no one (except you) knows. Your job is to play the game of serious important work to the fullest. This way, nothing on the surface will change, but inwardly, you look at the world as a playground with lots of subtle side-games.
Ignore the urge to think that play will make you more productive. That’s the American way – I will play today so that I can be be rested to work even harder tomorrow. No, you will play today because there is nothing else more valuable than having a good time. The goal of your work should be to play.
The Play of Relationships
Nowhere is playfulness more obviously the point than in relationships. Playing by yourself is no fun. You need other people to create the drama and share in the experiences.
There is nothing more transformative to any type of relationship than moving its purpose from [whatever it is] to playfulness. Then, it becomes everything you dreamed it could be and more. I promise.
Like with the playground analogy, children have this figured out. They all get together and play with no purpose. When I was a kid, all of us in the neighborhood would go to each others’ doors and ask “Can you play today?” We didn’t have anything specific to play, just play in a general sense. I wish I could still ask people that without getting such strange looks.
Romantic relationships are like this at first and then they often settle into a rut which causes the playfulness to die. The problem is that things start to get serious. They even say: “we’re starting to get serious…” Well that’s the worst thing you could ever do!
The Power of Play
When you grasp this concept, it is a kind of enlightenment. You smile, laugh, and feel as light as you’ve ever felt. It is like experiencing a practical joke put on by your friends. You take it seriously until they come out of the bushes and laugh at you. Then, you realize it was all a joke and start laughing at how silly you must have looked.
This is the state that you will most often see in those who claim to have found enlightenment of some sort. There is a certain glint in their eyes because they see the triviality of this playground. Or in contrast, they may be very rigid and serious but this is the same thing. They’re simply mocking the seriousness for their own enjoyment – it’s an inside joke.
In my experience, this is the great secret of life: your world is setup to seem like it is dead serious and very important. Why? Because this gives you the greatest surprise when you finally realize there was nothing to worry about all along. The whole point is to play.
What a shame it would be to waste your experience on anything but play (but notice how even that disappointment wouldn’t be worth taking seriously). Are you enjoying the playground, or are you wasting time counting the blades of grass? When it’s time to get in the car and swirl back home, how will you feel about the time you spent?
Because… if you’re not having fun, you’re sort of missing the point of being here.
Image Credit: Mish Mish