I recently attended a Hans Zimmer concert (which would be a great topic for another day) and toward the end of the event he urged all of us to find the playfulness in everything that we do. He used the performances of his musicians as examples of how that might look. It wasn’t difficult at all to see that they were working hard but also having the time of their lives. They had taken their jobs to the ultimate level of fulfillment by actually finding happiness in the very act of executing their skills.
We often fail to find the fun in the tasks that we must do. So many people are stressed by jobs that seem to be a daily drudge, or they find themselves in situations that bear down on them unremittingly. It would be so nice if each of us were able to find ways to make the best of whatever we happen to be experiencing at any given moment. All of us have known individuals who appear to be quite adept at doing so. We sometimes confuse their upbeat personalities as being a kind of innate trait that they were simply lucky enough to possess from birth. We rarely consider that they may have consciously worked to develop playful spirits that allow them to navigate even the roughest of waters.
The Italian movie Life Is Beautiful tells the story of a Jewish father and son who become imprisoned in a concentration camp during the German occupation of Italy. The loving parent finds ways to protect his child by using humor and turning their ordeal into a kind of game. It is a moving account of survival even under the most horrific conditions, and it showcases the power of the human spirit in dealing with evil. In fact, many Holocaust survivors often speak of having found ways to laugh as a means of dealing with the daily horrors that they witnessed. Psychologists have in turn suggested that the people who willed themselves to joke and smile were far more likely to make it in such inhumane conditions. It is in our playful natures that we often find the courage that we need to overcome our most critical challenges.
The first born cousin in our family is a man imbued with optimism. He recently underwent a serious treatment for his heart. When a nurse told him that he was going to receive the anesthetic propofol he remembered that this was the substance that Michael Jackson was using as a sleep aide when he died. My cousin jokingly inquired if he would wake up from the surgery with amazing abilities to sing and dance. In other words he transformed a tense moment into one in which everyone in the room no doubt laughed and then relaxed a bit. His antics demonstrated both his confidence in the team that was operating on him and his own belief that all would go well.
I used to love the television program M.A.S.H.. It was a situation comedy featuring characters who were part of a M.A.S.H. unit in South Korea during the Korean War. The doctors and nurses were charged with the responsibility of saving the lives of soldiers under almost impossible circumstances. To keep from going insane with the pressures under which they worked, the crew turned to humor in the form of sarcasm and practical jokes thereby easing the tension. While their humor was sometimes over the top, so were their responsibilities. It was in their playfulness that they found the courage to do their duties. The show was not just based on the imagination of some writer. In fact, an uncle of mine who also served in a M.A.S.H. unit in South Korea confirmed that the behaviors portrayed in the show were indeed based on reality. In fact, he noted that many surgeons even in modern day hospitals rely on fun to keep the seriousness of what they are doing in perspective.
I know that every teachers’ lounge in which I partook of my lunch was filled with lighthearted banter and laughter. Our lunch time antics were a relaxation technique that evolved naturally from the stressful nature of our jobs. We released so much of the tension that we were experiencing with the inanity of our conversations. Lunch with my peers was an almost sacred time for renewing our collective spirits. Luckily there always seemed to be at least one soul with an especial knack for making us chuckle. I’m certain that we would not have been nearly as effective had we not been allowed to behave as playfully as our students sometimes did. Even better was when we felt confident enough to banter humorously with our students as well. I often accomplished more after my pupils and I had laughed than when I was all seriousness.
My happiest times at work were often the craziest. I recall one school where the end of school year tradition was to hold water gun and balloon fights in the hallways after the students were all gone. We behaved like the teenagers whom we had taught all year. The building was filled with joyful screams and belly laughs while we hurled balloons at each other. It was a grand celebration of our accomplishments during what had sometimes been very difficult school years. It bound us together and brought out the best in all of us.
Life can become quite unbearable at times. There are even moments when laughing and joking would not be appropriate. Still we need to allow ourselves the gift of being light hearted now and again. I actually have signs in my home to remind me not to be too somber. One urges me to live, laugh and love. Another simply tells me to laugh. Still another says, “I put the fun in dysfunctional.” I have such impish reminders all over my home. Some might see them as kitsch, but I know that they are not so subtle hints that I often need to remember to lighten up.
There is a playful spirit inside all of us. It is there to help us to keep our perspectives properly aligned. Having fun and learning how to really laugh is actually quite healthy. As the old adage says “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It’s a platitude of which we all need to be mindful. It really does help to find the lighter side of life as often as we can. I sometimes wonder if many of the problems that we witness in today’s world are the product of being too darn serious all of the time. I fear that we have somewhat lost our societal sense of humor. Even our politicians can’t seem to take a joke in stride.
My father in law has a number of long playing albums from the sixties that are filled with hilarity. They mock the Kennedy family, the pope, and even the death penalty. Mostly they are satire that made us laugh at our human foibles. Luckily back when they were popular we all seemed to understand that they were not so much meant to hurt anyone as to point to our flaws in a very amusing way. I recommend that we all learn to laugh again or we will be doomed to buckets of tears.
Find the little bits of playfulness that abound in each and every day. It really is okay to use humor to struggle through the difficult times, and it can often be the best way to deal with our most serious problems. Smile. Be impish. Have fun. Don’t think of life as being short, nasty and brutish. Find ways to make it delightful and humane. It will make all of the difference in each of your days.