Recently, in San Diego, a woman came up to me and gave me her card. It said that she was a "playologist." "No offense, Ma'am," I said to her, "but what the heck is a playologist? Do you write for the theater? Do you teach drama?"

"No, no," she protested, looking at me as if I had the intelligence of an ox. "I simply teach people how to play. Adults today are so stressed and so ambition-driven that they never get a chance to play anymore. And that's where I come in."

While her profession might indeed sound strange (though no stranger than a rabbi who writes about sex), I think she has a point. Life is so much richer when we play, when we can let our hair down, when we don't always take ourselves and especially our careers so seriously. To make loads of money and work 18-hour days is to enjoy an engaging life in hues of gray. But to play is to experience life in full color.

Male-female relationships are significantly enhanced by playfulness. In the healthiest ones, the couple often does things together that only children would do, like make caricature drawings of each other, tease each other, or simply roll on the floor, giggling, in each other's embrace. But while it's very important that we play--and this is especially true for serious-minded professionals--I challenge the way my acquaintance the playologist goes about it. I have a much simpler solution for teaching people to play again. Have children.

The best way to rediscover our own inner child is by being around children. I'm a father of six, and having children forces me to play. And I love it. I'm forced to get on the floor, suit and tie and all, and have my children clamber over my back. I'm forced to make funny sounds and participate in little teasing games and giggle endlessly over the silliest jokes. Becoming a child along with my children allows me to come home from the serious business of work and not take myself or ego too seriously. It allows whatever innocence I have left to predominate.

About a month ago I played a Jewish puppet video for my children. Normally I'd leave the room as soon as I set it up for them. This time, I don't know what came over me, but I sat down and watched it. My kids started to giggle at every little joke. First I just sat stone-faced, enjoying my time with the kids but being thoroughly bored by the childish, slapstick humor. A few minutes later a giggle came out of me, and then another, and then another, until finally I was laughing hysterically along with my children.

And then suddenly I felt it. I felt what it was like to be a child again, not to have a care in the world. The pressures of life, my constant anxiety over financial concerns, the myriad responsibilities I had to take care of in the morning--the things that occupy my mind day and night--they all suddenly vanished, and I was left naked and innocent, unscarred and healed of all the world's pain.

I laughed with my kids as they fell all over me, and I thoroughly regretted when the video suddenly ended. Of course, I then had to go back to my responsibilities. But I went back with the determination not to allow those responsibilities to suck the marrow out of my life.

Three principal differences distinguish children from adults. First, adults don't merely interact with objects and situations; they try to master them. Children, by contrast, simply enjoy the situations that confront them. Playfulness and fun are foremost on their minds.

Second, adults are very concerned with being proper and being taken seriously. They're obsessed with what people think of them and will alter themselves accordingly. Adults pass all their utterances through a filter that makes their pronouncements socially acceptable (except when they're drunk or angry). Children, on the other hand, are much more natural and have the capacity to just be themselves. They say what they mean and mean what they say.

Finally, adults need for something good to happen for them to feel happy. They rely on good news to lift their spirits. With children the opposite is true. They're naturally happy, and it takes things going wrong to make them sad.

And here you have the three reasons it's so important for all of us to be like children a few times a day. Parents should spend time with their children not only so the kids will feel valued and loved but also for the parents' own sake.

Those who don't spend an hour or so a day just enjoying life instead of trying to master it end up becoming manipulative, cynical, and lonely. Those who don't spend an hour a day just being themselves and speaking their minds end up boring and superficial. And those who don't approach life in a carefree and joyous manner for at least part of the day end up miserable and depressed, complaining that everyone is cheating them and no one can be trusted. Even good news gives them only a fleeting sense of joy.

My great fear for today's young professionals is that, as they push back parenthood further and further, the become detached from the innocence and playfulness that only children can bring into their lives. Today's professionals live to work and barely know how to switch off. They have forgotten how to simply be. They must always do.

Many young professionals treat children as an annoying burden. Sure, they aspire to be parents. But not nearly as much as they aspire to their own Internet IPO.

To restore innocent playfulness to our dormant lives, we must choose to have children sooner and to have more of them. But in the meantime, if you're not married and having a child is not an immediate option, do the next best thing: Become a better uncle or aunt to your nephews and nieces. Volunteer to take your friends' kids out to the park or the movies. Or, best of all, be a big brother or sister to a deprived child who may not have older siblings or even parents. You'll learn to play again and you'll have the time of your life.
more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad