The Energizer

Resilient Insights for Work & Life

The Opposite of Play is not work…

by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Monday, August 12, 2019
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In fact, according to Stuart Brown, M.D., the opposite of play is depression!  As founder on the National Institute for Play, Brown has spent his career conducting thousands of “play histories” of humans from all walks of life: from Nobel prize winners and CEOs to serial murderers.  (In the latter case, what the murderers had in common: they never played as children!)

Humans are hard-wired to play with implications for social interactions, creativity, brain functioning, and the ever -important resiliency skill – adaptability.  When our attachment to work and its responsibilities create a vacuum for play, depression sets it.

According to Brown in his seminal book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, “work and play are like the timbers that keep our house from collapsing down on top of us.” Without play, our souls become over-burdened, dull and frankly, potential burned out.

The reason: play is the catalyst for creativity.  Creativity allows us to escape the boring and tedious. Break apart the word “recreation”and you discover RE-create.Innovation and improvisation are cornerstones for adaptability- a critical resiliency skill.  When we step off the ordinary and rigidly programmed, a sense of delight, joy and shall we say even wonder arise. As Isaac Asimov said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka! But ‘That’s funny.”

But don’t think of play as a sandbox for children or the rough-and-tumble world of little boys and girls. By definition, play is purposeless, all-consuming, and fun. But as Dr. Stuart Brown illustrates, play is anything but trivial. It is a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep or nutrition. We are designed by nature to flourish through play. Play runs the gamut from physical play to mental play, from singing and dancing, to social “games” (not video games) and any other activity that is done for the sheer fun of it.

Herb Koehler, founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines, made play a cultural cornerstone of that organization.  From very funny safety announcements on planes to interviewing practices that asked a potential candidate to relay something that was playful or funny in his life, Koehler knew that PLAY was essential to keep employees AND customer.

In fact, to grow in resiliency and keep burnout at bay, play might be the most important work we do.



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Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

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