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Through the Eyes of a Child

optimal LIVING • Aristotle group

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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“If you can play, you will always have a chance to be happy and to do something great.” ~ Edward M. Hallowell, M.D.
 

I am blessed to have a 12-year-old son. Since he was a very little boy we have referred to him as “Mr. Goodtime Man.” He has a unique desire and capacity to have a good time. Last week while his sister and mom were away at a horse show, I had the opportunity to spend an early summer week with him and view the world through the eyes of a 12-year-old-boy. While the week was rich with memorable moments, three key lessons stand out: the importance of choice, the value of humor and playfulness, and the incredible power of full engagement.
 

Dan Baker in his book, What Happy People Know, identifies choice as one of the six “happiness tools” that contribute to human thriving.  According to Baker, “choice is the father of freedom and the voice of the heart.” He reminds us that we have choices and that those choices shape the course of our lives.
 

I had a series of choices to make last week. While I had a full work schedule, I chose to find ways to carve out time to spend with my son. From previous experience, I knew that this choice would pay dividends in renewed energy and focus when I returned to the office.
 

The week was marked by humor and playfulness, one of the 24 ubiquitous virtues outlined in the VIA classification of character strengths and virtues. At first glance, humor may seem inconsequential. This is not true. Research shows that humor is linked to good mood and helps in buffering the stresses and hassles of daily life. Laughter has been shown to have a positive outcome on health, with benefits to musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and neural systems.  Humor and playfulness have also been correlated with creativity and intelligence (Peterson & Seligman 2004). 
 

Play has the ability to refresh and recharge us. It changes our perspective and can stimulate creativity.  In my work with executives, one thing we focus on is creating the discipline to take time away from work and to integrate play into work. This often requires planning, committing to choices and, in some cases, fierce determination. But when clients are successful in taking time for vacations and smaller breaks from the work at hand, they report new insights and solutions to problems that were not clear until they took time to have fun. 
 

Early childhood is cited as one of the best times in our lives. It is not a coincidence that it is in early childhood that we start to play. In his book The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, Harvard Medical School’s Edward Hallowell, M.D., states that playing in childhood leads to happiness in the moment and it leads to happiness many years later.  According to Hallowell, “the skill of play, of being able to make creative use of time no matter where you are or what you are doing, is the skill that lies behind all discoveries, all advances, all creative activity.”
 

Google, a company whose growth is dependent upon creativity and innovation, demonstrates an understanding of choice and playfulness.  They believe that good ideas can and should come from anywhere. Company engineers reserve 20 percent of their week for exploration and creativity.  That’s the equivalent of setting aside a full day each week to work on a pet project or idea. Google has created a structure to foster play and creativity. 
 

Research shows that adults who have a great deal of freedom as to how and when to do their work often experience that work as play, even and especially when that work is difficult. Further research by the Gallup organization finds that “the ability to do what I do best everyday” is the single most impactful driver of employee engagement.
 

Jim Goodnight is the co-founder and CEO of SAS Institute, a global company with $2.3 billion in annual revenues and an enviable long-term record of revenue and profit growth. The SAS Institute has for five years running been named by Fortune Magazine as one of the best places to work. When Goodnight founded the company over thirty years ago, he already knew that work environments affect employee productivity and retention. He believes the work culture is critical to the creativity inherent in knowledge work. Employees at SAS can visit their children throughout the day, take a break to work out, or form teams to play basketball over the lunch hour. Goodnight has strategically created a culture that leverages the value of play.
 

If you are not yet convinced of the importance of play, consider the results of the Terman Study at Stanford University.  Begun in the 1920s as a study looking at the lives of gifted children, the work has evolved into a valuable longitudinal exploration of health and longevity. The study finds that participants who are still surviving and thriving are those who played the most throughout their lives.
 

What an incredible paradox; taking time away from the office to play like a 12-year-old boy yields creativity, innovation, and productivity. And what a week, all that and the chance to spend time with one of my favorite people. Thank you Mr. Goodtime Man, for reminding your dad about the critical value of humor and playfulness.
 

Feeling a little stressed? Trouble finding enough time in your day? Can’t bring an issue to resolution? Take a break. Find a way to experience humor and playfulness in a way that you remember from your childhood summers. Make time for humor and playfulness and notice the impact.
 

Gordon Parry is the President of Aristotle Group, a firm dedicated to helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their full potential. In 2005, Gordon was one of 35 students selected globally to complete the first graduate program in the new field of applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

gordon.parry@aristotlegroup.net
www.aristotlegroup.net

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