I realised recently, after eating a penguin bar without even glancing at the joke on the wrapper, that I’ve accidentally gotten old, and am tottering dangerously on the cusp of dull. It happened somewhere between discovering that I could not only tolerate, buta actually enjoyed red wine, dark chocolate and olives, and the time in was genuinely excited to own a dining table.
It’s not to say that I’m at all ashamed of my newfound penchant for cosy nights and slow-cooking, I just don’t want it to come at the expense of, well, the ability to have fun. The ever-insightful George Bernard Shaw, it seems, was wise to this several years before my little revelation:
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”
Recent studies have found that not only does playfulness keep us young at heart, it can also help us learn, deal with stress better and even make us more desirable in the dating game.
Solution to stress
In 2011 Professor Lynn Barnett of the University of Illinois found that playful people are less likely to experience stress and, if and when they do, they are better at coping with it than their straight edged counterparts. Barnett found that instead of running away from stressful situations they just dealt with them without any avoidance.
Studying + silliness = success
In the same year Dr René Proyer, a psuchologist at the Univeristy of Zurich, found that the more playful students were the more grades improved, and that students describing themselves as playful were much more likely to go beyond the basic reading required to pass the exam.
The game of dating
Playfulness has now been found to influence our choice of partner: men see it as indicative of vitality in women, while the female of the species takes it to signify low levels of aggression in men. Working with his colleague Lisa Wagner, Dr Proyer also found that besides friendliness, intelligence and a sense of humour, playfulness is also important regardless of gender, and in matters of the heart is ranked more highly than religion, genes or having a degree. Playful people also deem humour, a fun tendency, a laid-back attitude, and creativity as more important in partners than their non-playful counterparts.
So despite being raised on the notion that we should have grown out of silliness by approximately the age of seven, occasional and well-timed silliness is in fact essential to successfully navigating most of life’s facets. But if you’re reading this having long ago banished all tomfoolery from your daily schedule, all is not lost – it’s never too late to get downright daft.
Nurturing your silly side
While the study of adult playfulness is still in its infancy, the consensus is that it can be nurtured, with psuchologisits considering it at the least a malleable personality trait, or otherwise more like a mood, which can be encouraged to occur more often. The most obvious obstacle to this, however, is that once ‘playing’ becomes monitored and engaged in purely for its functional role, it loses its silliness. Anthony Pellegrini, author of The Role of Play in Human Development, put it bestL “Play is an orientation where the means are more important than the ends, where you’re much more concerned with the process than the result.”
Being consumed by mediocre mundaneity is at best a waste of time, and at worst will make you ill. Life throws enough curveballs without actively denying yourself simple pleasures, so it’s time to shake off the notion that not caring is always a negative attribute, and start caring less about what people think.
Recapture a childlike mentality and do all the things you used to love, but stopped doing because you were too preoccupied by how others would perceive it: dust off your old skateboard and find your nearest curb; bust out some shapes on the dance floor instead of standing on the edge; oh, and never open a penguin bar without reading the joke on the back.