That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. – Henry David Thoreau
We hosted “game day” at our house, Sunday afternoon, beginning at 3:00 p.m. and lasting into the early evening when friends determined it was time to head home and prepare for Monday. It was the perfect “Cabin-Fever-Reliever” as the temperatures dipped and the wind whipped.
Happy, playful energy was what our friends carried through our front door along with a favorite game or three they brought to share and play. It was as if knowing they were able to spend the afternoon playing games opened up a fresh reserve of lightheartedness.
It is this lightheartedness which easily gets lost, or set on a shelf, and completely forgotten in the busyness and rush of life as we assert the “grown-up” sides of ourselves who need to be professional, make presentations, and create specific outcomes and results for work. It felt so good to take the afternoon off, to loosen up and simply be playful.
Witnessing the transformative power of play, as friends laughed and joked around, reminded me of how important play (and the positive emotions that accompany it) is to the building of our resilience muscle.
Positive Emotions: Broaden-and-Build
It has been long understood, emotions, like anger and fear, played an important role, evolutionarily, in our survival by helping us narrow down possible sets of actions for specific situations; for example, an emotion like anger put us on the alert, allowing us to defend ourselves (fight); while an emotion like fear triggered the desire to run away, allowing ourselves to protect ourselves (flee).
The role of positive emotions in our evolution were less understood; however, researchers have come to understand positive emotions serve the important function of broadening our mindset, opening us to possibility and exploration, and help us build our personal resources. Barbara Fredrickson, research psychologist, of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was among those to take the power of positive emotions seriously and through her investigations, developed the Broaden-and-Build Theory.
Fredrickson points out, an emotion like joy, for example, has us feeling bubbly and playful, and more likely to reach out and interact with those around us. Our evident happiness draws people to us who want to be part of the hugs and smiles. Our worldview is expanded by those with whom we associate, and the ideas generated by our social circle lead us to be more creative socially, physically, intellectually, and artistically. Joy broadens us and builds a host of lasting positive consequences in our lives.
Building Our Resilience Muscle
Amplifying our levels of joy and play in times of challenge and change is important in building our resilience. Not because we want to ignore the sadness or diminish our loss, or apply a plastic Polly-Anna façade, but rather, it is for our own health and well-being. Turns out, people who are more resilient in the face of transition, challenge or change are the ones who are more willing to tap into humor, creativity, exploration, relaxation, and optimistic thinking as a way of coping.
Four Ways Play Boosts Resilience
- Fresh Perspective: Bringing more play into our lives is an easy way to generate humor, creativity, and relaxation – the necessary ingredients for helping us find a more empowering perspective within our current circumstances, especially as we tackle the “Big Stuff”.
- Let Go – Loosen-up: Engaging in playful activities helps us enjoy the journey; instead of treating ourselves as constant “self-improvement projects” we get to loosen up and laugh with ourselves, instead of taking “it” so seriously.
- Create Connections: Play allows us to interact with others in a way which strengthens our connections through laughter and jokes and happy shared experiences, instead of always being the one who requires others to lend a sympathetic, listening ear.
- Get Curious: Play has a way of encouraging us to get curious, let down our guard, try new things and expand our world view of what is possible…who knew we might like the taste of mussels in garlic sauce; the game of Sheep’s Head; downhill skiing; or Stephen King novels?
Positivity Ratio: 3:1
Research by Fredrickson and colleagues shows the tipping point for flourishing, versus languishing, is essentially, 3 to 1 positive emotions and events for every negative emotion, situation, or event. Frequency is the key to boosting your optimism, humor, creativity.
Right now, with whatever stress or challenge has come your way, it is important to have a number of happiness boosting strategies – PLAY – at the ready.
Since we all define play differently, based on our personalities, create a list of people and activities that feel playful, spark a lightness, and stirring of energy in your soul.
Consider ways to create the tipping point for yourself – what three to one ratio can you create for yourself in a day or week to help you move the needle from languishing to thriving?
Playful ideas to get you started:
- Call a friend who is sure to make you laugh.
- Hug. Hug lots of people to get your natural, daily dose of oxytocin.
- Creativity: Take up knitting or quilting or painting or pottery-making.
- Buy yourself a little something special – a new hat, scarf, or pair of earring.
- Lose yourself in nature; find hiking trails you’ve never explored before.
- Sign-up for cooking classes or join a monthly wine-tasting club.
- Gather your friends for a night out … head out for some live music.
- Spend the afternoon watching sports – support your favorite team
- Schedule a spa day and get a massage or mani-pedi.
- Consider dancing or karate or yoga classes as a way to embrace your body’s power.
- Head to the make-up counter and try out a new look for the season.
- Buy yourself some flowers – I love the pop of color brightening my dining room and my mood.
Resource: Fredrickson, Barbara L. “The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions.” The Science of Well-Being. Ed. Felicia A. Huppert, Nick Baylis, & Barry Keverne. Oxford: Oxford Press, 2007. 217 – 238.