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Play! The Sanity Saver For Tough Times

By Eileen McDargh

The opposite of work is not play. It’s depression. So states psychiatrist Stuart Brown in his new book, Play: How It Shapes The Brain, Opens The Imagination And Invigorates The Soul.

Brown has conducted more than 6,000 play studies on what goes wrong when people do not play-studying everything from serial killers to career-driven CEOs. Given the current plethora of economic turmoil, negative news, layoff paranoia and growing unemployment lines, the notion of taking time to play sounds like a childish daydream. But if Brown is right, we could become a nation of stress-filled, hypertensive individuals who suffer far more than we need to and-at the very extreme-become downright dangerous to ourselves and others.

Brown is not original in his assertion. Anacharsis, a 6th BCE philosopher insisted that we are to, “Play so that you may be serious.” Even in the Hellenistic world, play gave rise to scientists, writers, philosophers, and builders of great civilizations.

If you consider that the task before us is to build rebuild our cities, our enterprises, and our global community, then play becomes the non-chemical stimulant for channeling stress into productive outputs.

Play takes many forms. The trick is to find one that resonates with you. Consider these examples:

1. Give yourself permission to play. Put a play date with yourself on the calendar and treat it as sacred as the meeting with your most important client. Remind yourself that you’ll be refreshed and thinking more clearly if you play.

2. Find the play that best suits you. Start a Play diary, writing down moments of well-being. It might be something that occurred during the week. It might be as simple as walking the dog or as complex as taking an eco-adventure tour. It might be a romantic night with your best beloved or a sweaty 100-mile bike ride. Whatever it is-in the doing, you feel a sense of contentment and joy.

3. Pass play along. Encourage others. Make sure you’re not the driver who keeps employees chained to their desks but rather, lead the way. If you’re in a position to do so, create a Fun Friday where everyone takes a turn at coming up with something that evokes joy, laughter, and contentment. One organization forbade e-mail on Fridays between anyone in the building. Instead, messages were sent via a paper airplanes.

Martin Buber, German Jewish biblical scholar believed that “play is the exultation of the possible.” Isn’t that what we all are looking for now-what is possible!

Go play….so you might be serious.

Since 1980, Hall of Fame speaker Eileen McDargh has helped Fortune 100 companies as well as individuals create connections that count and conversations that matter. Executive Excellence ranks her among the top 100 thought-leaders in leadership development. To hire Eileen to teach your leaders and staff Radical Resilience for these difficult times visit

(c) 2009, McDargh Communications. Publication rights granted to all venues so long as article and by-line are reprinted intact and all links are made live.

One Response to “Play! The Sanity Saver For Tough Times”

  • Aw, this was a very nice post. In idea I want to put in writing like this additionally ?taking time and actual effort to make an excellent article?but what can I say?I procrastinate alot and certainly not appear to get something done.

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