Year after year overworked and overstressed people come to me for advice on feeling optimal. And for years I have been giving them advices like: increase your sleep quota, eat better in terms of macro and micronutrients, meditate, go to sauna or massage, try to reduce your work time and so on. It’s not that these are bad advices. It’s that they are just a small part of the big picture. And that is OK for some people. Some people like to start with something small. But for others who have asked me: “What is the single most important thing you would advise to reduce stress?” I would answer simply “Just be more playful”.
You see stress is nothing else than a result of a certain perception. Whatever we are doing at the moment if we see it as important we will approach it with seriousness. The more important we think it is the more seriously we will approach it. The more seriously we approach it the more tension we will create in our body. And the more tension we will create the more stress we will acquire in the long run.
But why does seriousness create tension in us? That is because seriousness is not our inherent quality where playfulness is. Seriousness is a sort of discipline. Children do not know how to be serious unless they are taught or are imitating someone. Which means you have to force yourself to be serious. The only people who don’t feel tension with seriousness or don’t have to force themselves to be serious are the ones who are already dead. So when someone says to you: “I am dead serious.” They mean that they are serious and also dead. Dead inside.
Playfulness is aliveness. When you are alive you will naturally be playfull. When you try to deny this fact you will push your aliveness deep down and put on a serious face. But at what cost? At the cost of tension, stress and life energy or vitality if you want to call it that. That is probably why very serious people look a lot older than they actually are. They have no more vitality. And then they try to make everyone around also serious because someone elses playfulness reflects back at them. They see in someone else what they have forgotten, repressed or denied in themselves.
Do you know the joke where two managers are talking and the first one says: “I’m afraid to go on vacation.” And the second one says: “Don’t worry everything here will be alright. We will manage without you just fine.” And the first one says: “That’s exactly what I am afraid of.” The first manager was not really concerned about what will happen when he will be gone. He was really concerned that others and himself will realize he is not as important as he always taught he was.
My most tense and stressed periods of life were the ones where I thought my work and myself are very very important. I felt no real inner peace back then. Every day was seen as a battle I have to win. Not to mention how difficult I have made a life for the people around me. Those days are long behind me but I am very grateful for the experience I had. Without it, I would probably not appreciate my inner peace as much as I do now.
So how can one become more playful and therefore live a less stressful life? First, we have to stop seeing ourselves and our work as overly important. We have to admit to ourselves that many times when we see a situation and think it’s very serious that is just our current perspective. Second, spend time with those who know and have not forgotten how to be playful. If you have children play with them. Let them teach you playfulness. They are experts in it. If not find friends who know how to be playful. Engage in playful or creative activities where there are no achievements to be gained. Or you could also take a vacation. Not to run away but just to see your world from a different angle.