The Importance of Play and Laughter for Leaders & Changemakers: How to Connect with Your Inner Child
Due to the uncertain and stressful times we are currently living in, and also because of research I’ve recently read on the importance of a “playful frame of mind” as we evolve as authentic leaders, I decided to resurrect and share an article I wrote three years ago. …
Many of us learn that after a certain age, it is not appropriate to play. We get messages that we need to become serious and act like an adult. More and more research has shown how important play and laughter are for health and wellness throughout our lives.
You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine. When we laugh, we release endorphins and encourage energy to move throughout our body. In the words of Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who has spent much of her scientific life studying the mind-body link:
Play and laughter are vital to feeling good. Recreation isn’t merely a frivolous addition to life or a hard-earned reward for work…I believe that in a society driven by a strong work ethic, with so many individuals burdened with workaholism, people aren’t getting enough endorphinergic surges through the bodymind on a regular basis. For you to not be laughing and playing during some part of every day is unnatural and goes against your fundamental biochemistry.
Everything You Need to Feel Go(o)d), 2006
Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has conducted research that shows play is not only energizing and fun, but also important for human physical, emotional and cognitive development, and intelligence. Addictions, depression, stress-related illnesses and interpersonal violence have been linked to the prolonged deprivation of play –http://www.nifplay.org . Brown’s TED talk outlines different types of play and provides evidence of the importance of play throughout our lives –http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html
Based on research by Brown, Pert and others, it is recommended for the health of our minds and bodies that we engage in play and laughter every day.
Types of Play
Research on animals and humans has identified a number of different types of play including:
- Body Play – when we move our bodies in different ways; for example, jumping, running, skipping or moving our bodies to real or imagined music.
- Object Play – when we make an object (e.g. a snowball) and play with it, or play with an object such as a soccer ball.
- Imaginative Play – creating an imaginary friend you interact with (you may have had an imaginary friend when you were a child); creating and sharing a fantasy story with a child; playing “dress up”.
- Social Play – playing tag or playing house with others
- Transformative Play – through digital and other types of “structured” play we learn creative problem-solving.
Strategies for Incorporating more play and laughter
- Travel back in time and identify and write down types of play activities you enjoyed and engaged in as a child.
- Reflect on how many of these activities you currently engage in as an adult and how often you engage in them.
- Rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how energized each of the above activities makes you feel – 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “full of energy”.
- Identify several play activities you would like to begin integrating into your life. Experiment and notice how they make you feel.
- Commit to engaging in some form of play and/or laughter on a daily basis. Ask friends and family for support (perhaps make it a family project to laugh and play at least once a day), and encourage play and laughter in their lives as well.
Your Inner Child
Another way to incorporate more play and laughter into your life is to connect with your inner child. According to Wikipedia “our inner child is our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty.” Others say that your inner child is your “true self” … the small child within you that never grew up. Your inner child is naturally fun, playful, and creative. It is also fragile and vulnerable.
Many of us have buried or rejected our inner child, and it takes some time to reconnect with and nurture it. The process may be challenging and scary for some, especially if you’ve experienced trauma. Connecting with our inner child helps us love, accept and nurture ourselves.
- Write a letter to your inner child saying that you want to reconnect. It can be a letter of apology or one expressing that you want to strengthen the relationship with her.
- Notice and acknowledge the feelings that come up when you connect with your inner child. Rather than “pushing them down” or rejecting them, allow any fears, sadness or insecurities to surface. Notice what you notice.
- Express those feelings by writing them down in a personal journal or through painting, finger painting or drawing.
- Picture yourself as a 3, 4 or 5 year old and reassure your younger self that they are safe, secure and loved.
- Reorganize your living space. Make it more fun. Bring out joyful childhood pictures, stuffed animals and trinkets and put them on your mantle. Paint one or several of your rooms with guidance from your inner child.
- Buy a coloring book and color several times a week.
- Spend time with children playing children’s games. These could be “hide and seek”, or imaginary games, and creating and telling your own stories.
- On awakening everyday ask your inner child what fun activity they would like to engage in today.
Research shows that bringing our inner child out to play and incorporating laughter and play into our days is essential to be healthy and happy throughout our lives. I encourage you to try some of the strategies and to notice what you notice.
I’d love to hear how you connect with your inner child and what you’ve noticed from that experience. Please share your experiences below so we can all learn and grow from each other.
 Originally published in the February 2017 issue of Eydis Authentic Living Magazine