This past Sunday I had the chance to co-lead a worship service with a 93 year old friend of mine by the name of Jack Prince. Jack, a World War II veteran, is an amazing pianist and organist and a true inspiration in my life. Apparently I am not alone in admiring this man’s love of life and music as our local Milwaukee ABC television station aired a piece highlighting Jack this week, which in turn was picked up and broadcast by ABC nationally! I highly recommend you take a few minutes to watch the video at http://abcnews.go.com/US/93-year-wwii-veteran-prepares-upcoming-birthday-piano/story?id=46465840. In this video you will not only see Jack’s love of playing the piano, but also his love of continuing to be being a life-long learner, as he continues to take regular lessons even though he has played piano his entire life.
As we prepare to celebrate April Fool’s Day, it is a good time for all of us to pay extra attention to the importance of play and how it contributes to our everyday wellness, no matter what our age. My friend, Jack Prince, can help us with this as he is who I think of when I reflect on the quote from George Bernard Shaw that says, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
Research has long shown the importance of play in a child’s overall development and well-being, and now it is showing that the same is true for adults throughout the life cycle. The study of the role of play in adult wellness is given full attention by the American Journal of Play (http://www.journalofplay.org) , a scholarly journal that explores the importance of play in both our work places and in our personal lives. Silicon Valley start-ups are now not the only companies that are equipping their break rooms with ping pong or foosball tables, as today more and more companies recognize the positive connection between play, creativity, and team building and are building those kinds of opportunities into their places of work.
One of the articles I read recently on the American Journal of Play website talked about how our American culture has diminished the restorative value of play, by too often turning play into a competition. I love competition as much as anyone, but I have found that I need a reminder now and then to make time for pure play, play that is simply fun for its own sake.
When we offer our Living Compass trainings in Chicago we always include a night of improv comedy (Chicago is, after all, the home of improv comedy). We invite a team of improv players in and they play an assortment of improvisational games for us to see and then invite those who wish to join in to try it for themselves. People almost always join in because they find the laughter infectious and the permission to simply play for an hour to be a true gift. Our improvisational play together is spontaneous and pure fun, involves no competition or electronic devices, and is totally created out of our own imaginations. Many people report that this evening of laughter is the best thing they have experienced in a long time.
Rest and Play is one of the eight dimensions of wellness we talk about in our Living Compass materials because we know that play is essential to our overall wellness. I know for myself that one of the first signs that I am out of balance is that I lose my sense of humor and notice myself taking everything far too seriously. On the other hand, when I am more in balance, I laugh more and am much more able to be flexible and accepting of myself and others.
As we celebrate April Fool’s Day it is a good chance of all of us to pause and reflect on whether we are making enough time for laughter and play in our lives. And if for a moment you think that you are too old make time for play in your life, or to keep learning, take a few minutes to watch the video of my friend Jack Prince that I mentioned at the top of this column. How can any of us not be inspired by Jack’s example!
Happy April Fool’s Day, and remember, the jokes on us if we don’t make enough time for some time to play in our lives!