The Most Important Advice from Your Child Self
Play, so that you live lightly in a serious world.
A few years ago, insomnia took over my life while I was so eager to start a business on the side and knock off my “personal development” goals. I tried all the therapies and known remedies, but nothing truly worked until I realized something so obvious yet completely unnoticed in my life: I was just marching towards milestones with no focus on joy or play.
This realization shook me; I looked back at my 30 years of life and saw that I achieved almost everything I set my mind to without ever enjoying the process. If I were to continue spending my life like this, by the time I am 80, I would only have empty and short-lived moments of happiness, and a whole lot of anxiety, struggle, and stress.
Fortunately, this hard truth set me free (at least at the time). I stopped everything that stressed me, and I focused on having fun. In a month or so, the chronic insomnia was gone. Talking to others about this, I know that I am not alone in this. As adults, we are programmed to get things done and pay no attention to “how” we do it, no matter what the cost is. We get to the next thing only to find that it too doesn’t satisfy the deep yearning we all feel for sustained happiness and feelings of completeness.
The good news is that our child self has a solution: play.
I don’t mean competitive play but play just for the sake of fun and as a general attitude. Reach for your early memories.
Do you remember being engrossed in the moment, with whatever you were doing? Can you recall the joyful excitement of being allowed to play outside until the sun goes down? What about the insatiable curiosity or unstoppable laughter for no reason?
These childhood gems are conditioned out of us as we grow up. We believe this lie that we have to be serious to get something done. The truth is play is severely underutilized for our adult world. If we could bring it back to our lives, a big portion of our problems could disappear. If you still don’t buy the idea of play, take a look at why it is so important:
It is probably the meaning of life.
Ok, this is a big statement. Allow me to elaborate. If you look at life closely, you’ll realize everything is impermanent; even the most important people or the direst problems. Things we take so seriously today eventually change tomorrow, one way or another. We act our part in the infinite unfolding drama of life; all our heartaches, big problems, and amazing successes disappear when we give our last breath. That’s why the saying “life is one big game.” exists.
“Play is the highest form of research.” — Albert Einstein
Milestones and goals, although they help us create/grow, are meaningless unless we enjoy our lives. What matters most at the end of our lives is how much we loved/were loved and whether we had a good time.
Play is how we enjoy ourselves; it is the lightness in our hearts, the laughter ready to burst, the freedom to experiment and nurture our curiosity, and the fun in action. It is being immersed in the present moment, fully existing now, not when you get that award, money, or relationship.
In summary, play is the strategy to win the game of life.
It is incredibly good for both physical and mental health
Clinical Child Therapist Caileigh Flannigan explains the marvelous benefits of play (a few highlights):
Reduces stress: it helps release endorphins that make us feel happy, boost our immune system, and alleviate pain.
Stimulates and improves brain functions: Just like children, adults learn best when it is engaging and fun.
Fires up imagination: the combination of the absence of stress and the presence of fun is the best recipe for the creative mind.
Increases emotional wellbeing: Play helps replace negative beliefs with positive ones. It also helps us connect with others, which has a huge effect on our emotional state.
Boosts productivity and innovation: When something is fun, we tend to be better focused without getting overwhelmed — which helps with productivity and creativity.
Prevents burnout at work: It refreshes our body and mind.
I’d add that it increases resilience. Through the perspective of play, we can embrace the ebb and flow of life and failure- nothing to lose if it is a play anyway!
“Almost all creativity involved purposeful play.” –Abraham Maslow
How can we play more?
When I say play, if you only think about games or sports, you are limiting yourself, my friend. Play is like a life philosophy. Instead of cherry-picking the times we can play, we can ask “What is the play version of this activity at this moment?”
It could be anything, in fact, the more mundane the task, the better it gets. Nobody can tell you what the play should be like, otherwise, it wouldn’t be a play. Only through your own creativity and channeling your child self, can you know how your life can be more playful, in every moment.
If this is hard to imagine, here are a few examples from my version of bringing more play into my everyday life:
Writing a poem by using the letters of the alphabet about the challenges I go through
Never making a meal the same way; always experimenting with flavors
Dancing while cooking
Making random noises when I am stressed
Going under the covers and imagining I am camping at one of my favorite places
Asking a random question to someone I just met
I wrote this article because I am acutely aware that I need more play in my life. When I had the insight about the play last time I had insomnia, it helped tremendously but the insight didn’t stick then… Two years later, as I’ve sailed into new adventures and goals, I circled back to the same lesson because I fell back to my “adult” conditioning. Now, I am working on filling my day with simple acts of play. I hope you too can bring your child self back to your life and have fun.