Take Back Your Life!

Why don’t more adults play with abandon?

June 22, 2010 by Giulietta Nardone

Dear Status Quo Changers,

Recently, a friend asked where I get my blog post ideas. Honestly? They find me. I pick up a greeting card, overhear a conversation, visit someone else’s blog, open a book. Sometimes I have more than two posts that want to be written at the same time. The one yelling “pick me” the loudest usually wins.

Two days ago, I looked out my upstairs bathroom window around 6:30 am to see three cottontail bunnies chasing each other all over the yard. (I thought it was three but it’s probably more like 33. They just look similar.) Up and over our small hill, through the giant hemlock grove, under the blue spruces. Round and round they went. It looked like they were having a grand time.

Then today I picked up a greeting card at this neat one-of-a-kind place called Karmala Boutique. The brightly painted card said “Play with Abandon,” part of a longer quote by Mary Anne Radmacher.  I knew today’s post would be about play or rather lack of it in adults.

I wonder how it came to be that adults created a world for themselves with so little time devoted to play? Even acceptable forms of adult play can seem like work. I’ve gone on several European bike trips where the goal seemed to be — bike as fast as possible and get back to the hotel. I consistently fell behind on these trips because I wanted to enjoy the journey, celebrate being out of the office, stop and take pictures, smell the vineyards and open air, drink in the landscape, smile at baby lambs, talk to folks who lived along the way.

Since we create our reality, we can change it. We can bring back a sense of play to the lives of adults. So, I’m tossing this question out to my brilliant and daring readers, “What would we need to change to reintroduce play to adults and how would that improve the world?”

I appreciate how many of you read my blog every week!

Muse thx, Giulietta

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23 responses to “Why don’t more adults play with abandon?”

  1. Michael says:

    North America is perhaps the most over-work-obsessed region on the globe. Even my little home country of Canada ranks fourth on the list of countries that embrace over-working. Compare this to a country like France that ensures all employed people six weeks of paid holiday per year, a four-day work week, and still enjoys some of the highest corporate efficiency ratings in the world.

    I’m not saying France is perfect, but there are plenty of examples of countries, and even companies in our own hemisphere, that recognize the value of providing and environment in which people can seek a real balance between work and play. And that environment, where it exists, usually ends up creating far more innovation, productivity and happiness than the popular ‘work’em ’til they drop’ mentality.

    Of course the other obvious option is to find something which you love that will pay the bills and just work for yourself. Then work and play can often become the same thing, something joyful and creative and inspiring.

    Thanks G., you always ask the good questions.

  2. Hey Michael,

    Great point about innovation coming out of balance. Maybe this constant talk of “falling behind,” — whatever that really means since it’s all invented — has grown out of an obsession with work.

    I have a book on Leonardo da Vinci and read that he used to wander around most of the time. We all know the amazing ideas that grew out of his wandering.

    I wonder, pray tell, what ideas Da Vinci would have come up with imprisoned in an itty bitty cubicle 55 hours a week? All I wanted to do was think of ways to get the hell out of there …

    Great commentary as usual! Thx, G.

  3. Hi Giulietta,

    I had an experience earlier this year when it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks that I don’t play enough. My moment of insight came from watching Stuart Brown (founder of the National Institute of Play) give a TED talk about purposeless play. I was mesmerized by his words, particularly the part about timelessness, freedom, and giving himself over to play. That really hit a note with me, that the act of play requires a giving in, an embrace of purposelessness. We hear so much these days about being purposeful that it truly does require a shift in perspective to choose play. I’m still working on it, but have had many more experiences of it since then. And I think that’s what it will take to get people to play more, for them to begin to experiment with purposelessness, until they eventually get to the point where they feel more comfortable with it.

    Great topic!

  4. Hi Patty,

    I love that idea. Something to do that doesn’t require rushing to some predetermined outcome, even purpose. Let’s just have FUN!

    Will check out the Institute of Play.

    Fiveish years ago I ran a “play” type life shop at a women’s conference. We had a hilarious time!

    Several of the women told me they had been a bit scared to sign up.

    Maybe a merry-go-round for adults? I loved to hold onto the bar and help push it around and then jump on to maximize the spin. Or have they been banned?

    Thx for your always intriguing thoughts. Giulietta

  5. Hannah Katy says:

    I am a nanny to three children this summer and what it has taught me the most is to play with abandon. To enjoy the little things, to still look at life curiously and to stop pretending that I am not amazed with the way this world unfolds itself to me every single day… It is amazing to be curious and to be in awe of thise lifetime. And it is perfectly ok!


    Hannah Katy

  6. Hi Hannah,

    What a marvelous lesson these children have taught you. It’s easy to forget how truly amazing life is.

    When I go out at night to wish upon a star, I’m humbled by those twinkling beauties! When I look at the insides of flowers, I fall in love with the delicate details. When I feel the wind on my face, I realize how many other faces it has touched.

    And it’s all free! Talk about a deal …

    Appreciate your lovely comment. G.

  7. Tracy Todd says:

    I absolutely loved this… “play with abandon”. I wish I could encourage everybody to do that more.

    After reading your post I felt sad because I assumed that I can no longer play. But, after giving it some more thought I realized that I was totally wrong. I have my mind. I have my voice. I can laugh. I can have fun. I CAN play.

    Just yesterday I shared a few flirtatious messages with a single, dropdead gorgeous guy on Facebook. I loved every minute of it. In essence, I WAS playing. And afterwards I was left feeling light and happy in my heart. That is exactly what playing is all about. Playing has the ability to leave one revived and refreshed — giving one the ability and strength to once again face all our daily challenges.

    Thank you for a lovely post.

  8. Hi Tracy!

    Glad to hear from you. You’ve hit the play nail on the head — it’s an attitude we can choose. A playful spirit is all it takes. And, yes, it leaves us refreshed, revived and replenished.

    How fun you flirted on FB with a hunk! I’m sure he found you equally gorgeous.

    Here’s to playing! Giulietta

  9. You asked what can be changed… I start with myself and try to pass it on to my children. I have noticed that when we do something in a group, with other moms and kids, I become more stressed, I say “hurry up” a lot more, I fuss more. I’m trying to keep up with the group instead of letting my curious 4-year-old wander. (I’m not proud of this). Yesterday I took the boys on a solo outing and I was so much more relaxed to go at our own pace. As an adult, I’m still “unlearning” a lot of things.

  10. alison says:

    Love the topic! Isn’t it sad that we have to consciously carve playtime out of our busy schedules? I thank unemployment for the opportunity to rediscover a balance between work and play, and I’m frequently disappointed to see no other people enjoying the open spaces I have been fortunate enough to seek out in the past year. A few minutes of play a day would make such a difference in so many lives (oops that sounds like a requirement!).

    • Alison,

      Glad you stopped by my site. Honestly, I have you to thank for its existence. You gave me the idea to keep going with it when I blogged for Skirt! that month.
      Hmm. Maybe taking adults on play outings is your new calling. It’s all a pendulum — time for things to swing back to nature. Thx, G.

  11. Giulietta: I really liked this post. It is so true that we need to reserve the time for play in our lives. It is too easy to get sucked in to everything that is going on around us, but some of the greatest experiences we will ever have or remember are those when we are just enjoying the moment and having fun. Thank you for the reminder. I really thought this was a great post.

  12. Hi Giulietta, like many, I turned play into goal-oriented tasks that would need to get completed in a set amount of time. Sounds a lot like work, huh? (Which isn’t too bad because I like what I do, but basically, I forgot how to play, really play.) Then I had a kid and he literally teaches me how to play everyday. He is the perfect companion for me when we go for walks because we both like to stop and examine every little thing along the way. And his imagination? He literally challenges me to come up with stories about made up characters or even people we meet on our walks.

    • Sibyl,

      I agree with you that when we look back on our lives we’ll probably cherish the non-goal-oriented tasks the most. Even now when I wander back over my life, I don’t stop at the times I made a corporate work deadline, I stop at the times I felt alive, like sliding down the hills of my childhood in a cardboard box.


      Glad you mentioned goal-oriented tasks. It’s become an epidemic out there! It’s good that your child keeps returning you to imagination and play mode. I’m concerned that we’re trying to reduce play in children to meet arbitrary “learning” benchmarks. Then we’ll have no reminders to play. Like historic buildings are a gateway to our ancestors, children our a gateway to our play.

      Appreciate the comments!

  13. Joy says:

    This is timely for me…
    I realized this week that I have many joy filled moments, because I can find the joy in anything/anyone…but rarely do I have *fun*..Enjoyment and *fun* are two separate things in my book..so I’ve decided to incorporate fun into every day.
    Perhaps adults don’t play because they seem to have been born with a sense of obligation..in my own life I greatly enjoy the journey, and outsiders may look in and onserve that I’m ‘slacking’ when really I’m taking in everything I possibly can in that moment that I am in. I tend to appreciate joy, peace, beauty, simplicity, creativity…because I’ve trained myself to be Aware of it around me..
    I think our culture wants us to do all/be all…for the most part we are raised to accumulate not experience. I prefer to mebrace each moment fully…to experience all as it is meant to be experienced by my senses in this moment…

    • Hi Joy,

      Glad you’ll be adding fun to your joy. interesting point about obligation. Many take it to an extreme, forgetting that we’re here on the planet for but a short time. Why not make the most of it and have a good time? If that’s slacking, I’m all for it. I agree that we are socialized to accumulate things rather than experiences. Our entire economy could be revamped to accumulate experiences. And may have to be sooner rather than later in order to save the planet. As a side benefit, we’ll probably be a happier lot.

      Appreciate the comment … Thx. G.

  14. J.D. Meier says:

    I’m a fan of play. I like how as my dog got older, she never lost her sense of play and is always ready for a game of chase.

  15. Hey J.D.

    So true about dogs. They maintain a sense of play way longer than humans!

    Thx. G.

  16. Penelope J. says:

    How I relate to your biking story. Getting there fast or faster is what it’s all about, not what you can see or experience along the way.

    For many years I lived in Mexico, a country that certainly knows how to play. Then I came to the U.S., a country where people don’t seem to know how to play much. Often, they behave as if play was an unwelcome, or embarrassing, intrusion on their real life. Everyone has to be “doing” something. Or maybe it’s because the kind of innocent play that used to exist has been replaced by the more robotic techie dependent play.
    For my part, my playtime consists in taking long walks, and letting my mind roam wherever it wants rather than jogging to a pedometer’s and Ipod’s tune.

  17. Hi Penelope,

    Most interesting that you see the entire country as having a play problem. It seems that way at times. Nothing more joyless for me than to attend a party and experience everyone talking about work. Way more enjoyable topics to banter about.

    Thx. G.

  18. Mark says:

    I too find that my posts come to me in a very similar way. I don’t know where the words come from at times I simply allow the words to flow.
    I agree, we are often void of play in our adult life. One of the things I would love to do in corporate America would be to institute a play room for adults where they could go and play with toys, play dough, etc. This would open up the channels of creativity and in turn enhance the work that is being done.

  19. Hi Mark,

    Fab idea for the corporate play room! Bet you could promote it all over corp america.

    When I worked my corporate gig I was heavily into playing the piano. I kept saying to people, “why isn’t there a music room?”

    I don’t understand the nose-to-the-boring-grindstone attitude at companies. It’s not conducive for creativity.

    Thanks for the great point! G.