Is playfulness the secret to resilience?

Trish Riley
Trish Riley

Did you know that not having fun or experiencing joy on a regular basis can be detrimental to your health? It’s true – without daily joy or fun, boredom, anxiety, stress and even depression can adversely affect your health and wellbeing.

 In her TEDx Talk, Why having fun is the secret to a healthy life’, renowned science journalist Catherine Price suggests that defining fun as an expression of human connection, playfulness and flow could be the answer to a healthier and more productive human experience.

In fact, research has also found that boredom and anxiety can inhibit learning and development. Therefore, intelligence thrives with playfulness. And if this is the case, it makes sense for workplaces, and more pertinently, school classrooms, to be havens of fun and joy for the holistic benefit of both the student and the teacher.

The connection between playfulness and creativity

Playfulness is a powerful force in the classroom. It fosters creativity and innovation; builds connections socially; and improves academic performance. Students develop strong feelings of efficacy during play and, through challenges, can discover their strengths and weakness in a safe environment. Play is a cognitive process that allows students to engage in imagination, experimentation, exploration of things, thoughts, ideas, and possibilities.

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The dictionary definition of fun is amusement or enjoyment, or light-hearted pleasure. Unfortunately, it’s often relegated to kids’ play areas. It’s considered frivolous and optional. But if you think back on memories that stand out as truly fun, you’ll notice there’s something much deeper going on. 

In reality, fun is not just light-hearted pleasure. It’s not just for kids, and it is definitely not frivolous. Instead, fun is the secret to feeling alive.

Fun is a feeling, not an activity. There’s an element of playfulness, connection and flow. And when people do have fun, when they experience the feeling, it’s easy to recognise, because people who are having fun look like they’re being illuminated from within.

The ingredients of fun

Playfulness doesn’t mean you have to play games; it means having a light-hearted attitude of doing things for the sake of doing them and not caring too much about the outcome. Letting go of perfectionism. When we have fun, our guard is down, and we’re not taking ourselves too seriously.

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Connection refers to the feeling of having a special, shared experience. And while it’s possible, in some circumstances, to have fun alone, in most stories that people tell about their fun-filled memories, there is another person involved.

And then there’s the importance of flow – the state where we are so engaged and focused on whatever we’re doing that we lose track of time. It’s when we’re in the zone.

Playfulness, connection and flow all feel great on their own. But when we experience all three at once, something magical happens. We have fun. And that doesn’t just feel good, it is good for us.

Fun is energising. Fun also unites us. We live in a polarised world, and as we all know, there’s a lot of very serious problems. But when we have fun with people, we don’t see them as different political parties, or nationalities or religions. We connect with them as human beings, and it’s worth noting that this is the first step in being able to work together to solve those problems.

Fun also makes us healthier. Being lonely and stressed out causes hormonal changes in our bodies that increase our risks for disease. But when we have fun, we’re relaxed and we’re more socially connected, both of which have the opposite effect. Having fun is a health intervention.

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And, lastly, fun is joyful. We all want to be happy. We read books about happiness, we download apps about happiness, and when we are in a moment of having fun, we are happy. It makes sense therefore that the secret to long-term happiness is to just have more everyday moments of fun.

Less distractions = more fun

So how do we have more fun? Well, to start with, put your phones down. Stop the distractions. Don’t believe everything posted on social media – in fact, take regular breaks from it.

The most effective thing you can do to have more fun is to focus on its ingredients. Do everything you can to fill your life with more moments of playfulness, connection and flow. Use more ‘fun’ language. Laugh with your students more. Create adventures with lessons and bring out your silly self.

Most importantly, prioritise it. That might sound totally obvious, but one of the main reasons we’re not having enough fun is that we’re not making it a priority. You don’t need to diarise it, but if you know you consistently have fun when you spend time with a particular person, make a point to spend more time with that person. 

And if you know there’s an activity that generates playful connected flow for you, carve out time for it in your schedule. Treat fun as if it is important. Because it is. 

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Try it – you will find that you’re more creative and more productive. You will also be more resilient. Making sure that you’re having enough fun will make you a better partner, a better parent and a better friend. Fun is a distillation of life’s energy. And the more often we experience it, the more we will feel like we’re really living.


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Trish Riley is a Zimbabwean-born writer and communications specialist. With experience in journalism, and public relations, Trish has been developer and editor of several trade publications and regularly contributes articles for diverse sectors including aged care, animal care, construction and education.