Some years back I was lamenting the decline in handwritten letters, moaning to my younger brother about how everything arriving in the post lately seemed to be demands for payment or ads for things we didn’t need. We decided to do something about it, by sending things to each other, just for fun. And so began the Campaign for Real Mail.
We challenged ourselves to put stamps on random objects, no envelopes allowed, to see what would actually arrive. Successfully delivered items included a slice of toast, a pair of sunglasses, a CD, a pineapple and a tin of sardines. Then he sent me an empty lavatory roll. Except, when it arrived, it wasn’t empty.
The cardboard tube was delivered with a newspaper rolled up in it. And not any old local newspaper, but The Arnold Sentinel from Custer County, Arnold, Nebraska, USA, 4,400 miles away. We had absolutely no idea how it got into the lavatory roll. This sparked my curiosity.
I started to read the newspaper and got an unexpected insight into life in Custer County. There was a story about a deer caught in a snowstorm and an announcement that the ‘Good News Club’ would resume soon. I liked the sound of that. I sent an email to the newspaper to share this mystery, and they published an article about it, piquing the curiosity of their readers too. It made me smile.
There was no financial reward or end goal for this exercise. We were simply curious about where it might go. In the end it gave us a shared experience, a moment of bonding over something that intrigued us both.
That’s the thing with playfulness. It doesn’t have a ‘point’, but that in itself is the point. Not having to achieve anything or know the answers, even just for a moment, is a rare relief in our high pressure, high speed society.
Often we try to cram so much into our days that anything without an obvious goal gets jettisoned. The not knowing, and the purposelessness of play can be anxiety-inducing for some. But those moments of ‘point-less’ curiosity are often when we discover something that sparks an idea, opens our minds or invites a new opportunity.
I have two experts on play living in my house. One is three years old, the other is almost two. They learn nearly everything through being playful and curious. It’s how they grasp and assimilate what’s around them. It’s how they makes friends, and involves us, and each other, in their lives.
Try exploring the world around you like a child. Lighten up and don’t take things quite so seriously. Be inquisitive. There’s a cheekiness, an innocence and an openness in having a playful approach. It encourages you to loosen up and find delight. And the best thing about it? It’s really easy.
When you feel light and carefree, when you have fun and laugh from deep in your belly, everything is released. Through play we connect to joy, raise our mood, practice socializing and connect to others. It’s good for your body and good for your mind. Even science tells us so. There is a growing body of evidence (brilliantly summarized in Stuart Brown’s book, Play) to show that people come up with much better creative solutions when they are playful in their approach, and not attached to the outcome.
Play demands all your attention, so your mind is set free from worry. Being inquisitive is also vital to expanding your sense of the world: the more you discover, the more you realize there is to discover, and with that comes a sense of excitement and possibility. So have fun with it!
Imagine what might happen if you started being more playful in your work, in your conversations, in your relationships? Think about what you used to love to do as a child, and see how you can integrate any aspect of that into your daily life now.
Being actively more playful in your approach to everything is a real tonic when you feel like life has become too serious. When you find yourself hunched over your computer at all hours, when you aren’t challenged at work or when your head is full of worry. And if you think there isn’t time for fun, this is definitely something you need, right now.
Beth Kempton is author of ‘Freedom Seeker: Live more. Worry less. Do what you love.’ (Hay House)