The Single Most Important Factor to Success and Happiness?

As I prepared to write last week’s note to you about the importance of taking time for yourself, my mind snagged on a concept in my favorite book, Essentialism. It’s along the same vein of living a more successful, happy life. And I realized I had to share this with you, too. It’s perfect if you’re on a holiday break, but you’ve got to promise me you’ll work to incorporate this year-round. In addition to making time for yourself, you’ve also got to…

Make Time to PLAY

Before you laugh this off as a trivial, idealistic concept, you’ve got to understand what play really is, and why it’s actually very important.

What Is Play?

(VERB) 1. To engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

Or as Greg McKeown defines it, in Essentialism:

Kids are so good at playing. Last night we made gingerbread cookies. My kids had fun cutting out the cookies, frosting them, and dumping sprinkles on top, but the play for them came after I’d put the cookies in the oven.

You know how there’s always scrap pieces left over after when you’re making cutout cookies? My kiddos spent nearly an hour playing with those pieces. They mixed in different sprinkles, added more flour, rolled out, carved up and rolled out those scrap pieces again and again, until you’d hardly recognize them as gingerbread.

That’s playing.

Play Must Be a Priority

In the book, McKeown lists three primary reasons that play is essential. The one I want you to remember, today, is this:

Check this out:

Play is an antidote to stress, and this is key because stress, in addition to being an enemy of productivity, can actually shut down the creative, inquisitive, exploratory parts of our brain.

Did you catch that? Stress makes you less productive and unable to think clearly. But play helps to eliminate stress and all of its unpleasant side effects.

The National Institute for Play explains that play generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.

Tell me which of those things you don’t want?

Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, explains that an adult who has “lost” what was a playful youth and doesn’t play will demonstrate social, emotional and cognitive narrowing, be less able to handle stress, and often experience a smoldering depression. He boldly states:

“Our ability to play throughout life is the single most important factor in determining our success and happiness.”

That’s an incredible statement, and tough to swallow if you’ve lost your ability to play. And while I’m not pretending to be a very good “player” just yet, I recognize the importance of it and am seeking to be intentional in making play a priority. I’d encourage you to do the same.

If you struggle in what to do to truly play, just remember McKeown’s definition…it’s something you do simply for the joy of doing it.

To success and happiness by making play a priority…



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