“But if you observe children who are two or three years old, if you see how they behave, they are playing all the time. You see them laughing all the time. Their imagination is so powerful, and the way dream is an adventure of exploration. When something is wrong they react and defend themselves, but then they just let go and turn their attention to the moment again, to play again, to explore and have fun again. They are living in the moment. They are not ashamed of the past; they are not worried about the future…

The happiest moments in our lives are when we are playing just like children, we are singing and dancing, when we are exploring and creating just for fun. It is wonderful when we behave like a child because this is the normal human tendency. As children, we are innocent and it is natural for us to express love. But what has happened to us ? What as happened to the whole world?” – Don Miguel Ruiz

Last week I was meant to be setting off on an adventure on the other side of the world. Instead, I found myself setting off for the emergency room down the road.

All part of life’s rich tapestry and whatnot. But it was here I spent six hours with a doctor who was on the tail-end of a fourteen hour shift, and was by this point running purely on Red Bull. He was lingering my room because two of the nurses on the ward that night were ex lovers of his and it was “all just a bit awkward out there.” Why he thought this was vital information at three in the morning for a girl who thought she could feel her vital organs turning inside out, i’ll never know. But between giving me popsicles and telling me he was going to prescribe me a spoonful of cement to “harden up” it turned out to be one of the funniest hospital experiences of my life. And it kind of made me wonder why more people didn’t roll through the world like that. Not necessarily over-caffeinated and sleep deprived and debatably inappropriate. But with a playful spirit and a penchant for funny, imperfect human exchanges. Cause as far as i’m concerned, it just seems to make life better.

After I was sent home I had a lot of time to live it up in Club Bed and think about this idea of play and playfulness. And it was in Club Bed I first discovered documentary ‘Tarja Branca‘. Tarja Branca, Portuguese for ‘drops of joy’ explores the urgent and serious business of playing and playfulness. It stresses the idea that we need to reclaim that playful childhood spirit that gets forced out of us in adult life.
I say amen to that.

In the documentary ethnomusicologist Alberto Ikeda says that playing is how we as children start making our first social contacts. It’s how we train, measure strengths and build ourselves as human beings. In adulthood, playing satisfies our lifelong need to understand what we are, how we interact with others, how we exist in an area, and how to get the most out of what is around us.

“Playing opens a new time and space in a connection that is a bond,” says teacher Maria Amelia Pereira, in what is most possibly the most beautiful few sentences I think i’ve ever heard.
“When a child plays, it’s just them and the world.
“Because a child doesn’t live to play- playing is living.
“When a child is playing they are totally responding to their own lives.
“Life is expressing itself inside them.”

Can we let that sink in for a minute? Totally responding to their own lives. To the absolute present. The real stuff. Not responding to fear-based predictions of the future. Not responding to that voice in our head that likes to sometimes go ‘hey, remember that time months ago when you epically screwed up/ embarrassed yourself/ made a really poor decision? ‘ or ‘hey, ever wonder if you’re actually quite lame and you’re going nowhere everyone secretly hates you?’

So if play is the act of responding totally to our own life, i.e. living, why are we not responding totally to our own lives more? In book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky writes that 54 per cent of (US) adults ‘lack great enthusiasm for life and are not actively and productively engaged with the world.’

What. The. Hell?

So why do we lose our playfulness?

It boils down to three factors.

• It ain’t fashionable

There are 45,000 articles on melancholy and depression in specialized US psychology journals, says analyst Ricardo Goldenberg.
There are less than 400 on joy.
“Joy is not fashionable,” Goldenberg says. “What’s fashionable is panic, depression, medicalization of daily life.”

• Individual wing-clippin’

We are born with 100 per cent of potential to be free,” Writer and songwriter Braulio Tavares says.
“On principle, a child can do anything and become anything.” But this full spectrum of possibility is slowly culled as the child is told what they can and can’t say or do over a long period of time. If they don’t get the required score on a standardized test. If they don’t have what is deemed the necessary height or strength for a certain sport, or talent for particular instrument. If the opinions they choose to voice are seen as abrasive or too ‘out there’ or uncomfortable. Doors of possibility slowly start to close and expectations are readjusted accordingly each time. As we grow older, we not only have these outside factors telling us what we can and can’t do, we also develop that inner monologue of doubt as well. Plus we now have bills to pay. Societal expectations to meet. Before we know it, that 100 per cent of potential to be free we once had is now starting to look like 0.02%.

We try so hard to be important, to be winner, to be powerful, to be rich, to be famous… Why ? Because humans believe so hard that this means success and success means happiness, that we start taking it all way too seriously. Along the way, we forget to play, we forget to laugh out loud at all this comedy.

• Society!

“The way society’s machine is organized requires a considerable number of people, maybe half of the population or more, to do things they don’t like for eight hours a day.” writer and songwriter Braulio Tavares says.
“Because you need to survive you give up your inner child.
“This creative, imaginative, free, spontaneous playful person able to improvise.
To see the unexpected, the new, the different in everything… so that you can fit into the machine”
As individuals we are still largely valued on our productivity over anything else. Any notion of play is still largely seen as indulgent, a way to avoid responsibilities. Which is stupid because play is essentially being focused on something, or taking the possibility of something to its last consequences. You ever seen a kid make a cardboard box car for her Barbies? She sees that shit through. She gets it done. Play is focussing. Play is collaborating and creating and imagining new ways of doing things, seeing out all possible avenues, and opening our minds up to a plethora of possibilities.

In Brazil, and I love this, they hold not parties, but “frolics”. Music, dance, energy, and joy. Perhaps different contexts, different costumes, but at the core of these frolics is the playfulness we once all knew as children.

“The frolicker,” writer Marcelino Freire says, “allows himself everything.”
“His body is the canvas of his joy.”
Frolicking: dancing, making gestures, not hesitating, jumping, blessing, worshipping. But also teasing, an essential activity in frolics. It’s in teasing that trust is created, by willingly openly opening your heart to tease and be teased. These are all small things that contribute to a playful, joyful life.

It’s time we stop seeing play as subordinate, and start getting serious about living a playful life. It’s urgent.

Living a playful life doesn’t mean you don’t work hard or study hard. You can live a playful life and still make the intelligent, well-informed choices and decisions of a grown-ass woman. It just means being present more, responding directly to your own life more. It means less philosophizing about future situations down the track, less looking back on things you wish you could change. It means waking up energized, curious and hopeful. And ultimately means taking more time to do all the things that make you laugh and smile :surfing, skiing, dancing, painting, singing out loud on Justin Bieber songs, playing squash!! Whatever it is, this should be part of your daily life, and never feel guilty for all the time you allow to it. Play time should actually be a top priority, After all, why are we here if it’s not to have hell of a good time?

“Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out of it alive.”