Since this is our first newsletter of the season and thus my first greeting to our newsletter readers, I think a New Year’s greeting is still appropriate. At least indulge me in this, because I want to use this traditional greeting as a launching place for some reflection and as a segue to our upcoming Vancouver conference theme: Press Pause and Play: is this the answer for us all?

When we wish each other a Happy New Year, where do we think their happiness will come from – less sorrow and suffering? better success in their work? more fulfillment in their relationships? less negativity in their thinking? increased emotional health and well-being? greater accomplishments? more meaning in their life? all of the above?

Let me turn this question around to ourselves. What do we think the answer would be to greater sense of satisfaction and enjoyment this year? Most of us have a vague sense that something is missing in our lives and if this ‘missing’ could be lessened or eliminated, somehow things would be better. These core assumptions often exist in the IF ONLYs that rattle around in our minds. IF ONLY I had more money, more time, more leisure, more success, more family, more opportunity, more education, more recognition, more talent, more skill. IF ONLY I had less misfortune, less frustration, less distraction, fewer obligations, less alarm, less debt, or even less family.

These core assumptions heavily influence our decisions and infuse our interactions and our parenting. Of course, industry attempts to exploit these IF ONLYs, presenting their products as the answers to what is missing.

Could it be that there is something more elementary, more essential, perhaps even more elusive, to the sense of well-being that we seek? I believe there is. At this point I wish I could refer you to the book I wish I would have written on the subject. But alas, I will have to skip that part for now and offer you instead a few paragraphs, followed up by a conference keynote.

In short, I am becoming convinced that the elusive and naturally elegant answer is actually TRUE PLAY or a sense of PLAYFULNESS.

We have known for some time that REST is absolutely essential for healthy functioning and the realization of potential. In fact, the sense of well-being we are seeking would be impossible without sufficient REST. What wasn’t known – before neuroscience gave us a peek into the brain – is that PLAY is the main form of activated rest. The brain in the play mode is a delight to behold and in many ways the opposite of what it is in the work mode.

What also wasn’t known until recent times is that achieving togetherness is the main WORK of the brain and so we are not truly AT REST until that WORK is done or someone is taking care of that for us, at least in a given moment.

So could it be that PLAY is an essential answer to a sense of well-being? Could it be that TRUE PLAY is what is missing in our lives today? Could it be that the state of PLAYFULNESS is what will deliver the desired fruit, not only for us but for our children?

This was the conclusion of the very first philosophers in ancient Greece. In the last decade or so, science has rediscovered this surprising truth, spawning a whole new discipline dedicated to the subject. The emerging conclusion is that PLAY is NATURE INCOGNITO, the mysterious and invisible force behind the spontaneous unfolding of our potential. Could the answer really be that simple?

There was this thought in ancient philosophy that the answer to what is missing would lie in the most unlikely of places, disguised as ordinary, and probably even discarded as having no apparent use or value. I can’t think of a construct that has been more abused, distorted and truncated than play. We have thought of it as having no purpose, as frivolous, as what children do before they are capable of working, as something one does with a toy or an instrument. We have abused the term in thousands of ways and wrongly assume that play is what happens at recess, in sports, in video games, on playgrounds, and between children. We have been demonizing play for centuries as threatening our precious, and for some even sacred, work ethic. On the other hand, we have idealized expressive arts as play, when playfulness is just as difficult to realize in this arena as anywhere else.

Like a growing number of other scientists, philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, theologians, evolutionary biologists, and historians, I am becoming convinced that playfulness is a significant part of the answer to what is missing and to the sense of well-being that we seek. The evidence is there; the dots are being joined; the conclusion seems inevitable. I’m in.

So what I would like to wish every one of you is more playfulness in this coming year. And I hope that because of you, your children and loved ones will also become more playful.

Have a Playful New Year!

Editors note: If you would like to hear more on this subject, or if more playfulness is what you seek for you or your loved ones, be sure to join us at this year’s Vancouver Conference if you can.

© 2019 The Neufeld Institute
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