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Health & Wellness

How to Bring More Playfulness into Your Life

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An excess of seriousness may not be recognized as a health condition, but author and physician, Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD, is convinced from firsthand experience that it may undermine well-being.

Five years ago, the Ann Arbor, MI, gastroenterologist and father of three found himself feeling stressed, frazzled and barreling toward burnout. “My life was blurring into this mosaic of busyness, perfectionism and exhaustion,” he says. “I was going through the motions but not feeling very much.”

He didn’t think he was depressed or a particularly anxious person. And he was doing pretty well in terms of healthy lifestyle factors, like sleep and exercise. What was missing from his life, Dr. DeBenedet came to believe, was playfulness: The ability “to live lightly as we navigate the seriousness of adulthood,” he says.

In his book Playful Intelligence: The Power of Living Lightly in a Serious World, Dr. DeBenedet outlines the five qualities of playfulness that he considers to be key to helping us to live our best, most resilient and healthiest lives, including: imagination, sociability, humor, spontaneity and wonder.

Here are some ways to bring more of each into your daily life:

Imagination

Reframe daydreaming as doing something good for yourself. “Daydreaming may improve memory, consolidate learning and promote memory,” Dr. DeBenedet says. Choose a time when you can put your responsibilities on hold, and by taking five deep breaths and selecting a subject for your wandering thoughts. His suggestion: “Try daydreaming about an adventure or expedition that you’ve always wanted to experience.”

Sociability

Social support is exceptionally important for maintaining good physical and mental health. Maintaining connections between neighbors may offer protection against stress and may help lower the risk of some diseases, Dr. DeBenedet notes. “Small actions in the neighborhood could go a long way toward building a sense of community,” he says. “Try taking more moments for small talk with neighbors, and don’t dismiss those moments as a waste of time.”

Humor

Make an effort to spend time engaged in activities that involve humor, like watching a favorite movie or going to a comedy club. Feeling bold? Consider taking an improv comedy class.

Spontaneity

Break routines routinely, Dr. DeBenedet suggests. Try a place for lunch that you wouldn’t normally go for, check out an ethnic grocery store in a different part of town for new ingredients to use or visit your local library for an afternoon and wander through the stacks, dipping into new authors or novel subjects.

Wonder

Pause to observe mini moments of wonder. It could be a small act of kindness between two strangers in the supermarket, the joy of children playing a game of tag in the playground or a grandchild experiencing the tartness of a lemon for the first time. “If a metal detector can find buried treasures in the sand on a beach,” Dr. DeBenedet says, “your goal is to nurture a wonder detector that finds and appreciates the wonder around you.

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