Thursday, April 9, 2009

Laugh and Play

A number of years ago, while researching for my email Newsletter, I came across reports of "laughter" groups in Germany and India.

What? I thought. You actually had to teach - or at least encourage - people to laugh? Apparently so. Two years ago, at a national NAMI convention, I encountered a bunch of people who had gathered for a group laugh. There is even an organization that conducts laughter workshops.

Laughter comes wrapped in play. In a recent blog, I noted:

"Play is a vital element in our recovery. So much so, I contend, that if you are not spending at least part of your time acting like a child then getting through adulthood is going to pose a major challenge."

Let me assure you, I have acting like a child down pat. I cultivate a playful spirit, which has not only served me well, but is directly responsible for me not quitting on life. But a playful spirit is not the same as play, as I learned when I first started playing water volleyball two and a bit years ago.

I recall driving home from that first outing with my good friend Paul, who introduced me to the game. "You know," I said, "I haven't felt like this since I was five."

Okay, maybe nine or ten, but five was a very good year for me. Try to recall life at five. If you are having difficulty, you really need to be reading this:

Four or five years ago, Kay Jamison (who needs no introduction) published "Exuberance." The book did not sell nearly as well as her previous books, which is a shame, because what she has to say is vital to our well-being.

In her book, Dr Jamison mentions the disturbing trend toward eliminating recess in schools. Play is critical in the development of kids and young mammals, she says, from ensuring a fully-functioning nervous system to acquiring the intelligence and skills they will later put to use as adults.

When I talked to Dr Jamison about this, she told me that over-regimenting kids’ lives can have enormous consequences for our society.

Kids have the luxury of play under the protection of adults, Dr Jamison explained to me. Later, it becomes their turn to provide that same level of comfort and protection to their offspring. Nevertheless, some adults manage to retain their childlike capacity to respond in wonder to the world around them the rest of their lives, and Dr Jamison's book is full of these examples (such as Teddy Roosevelt).

But these are people who bring a certain lust for life to their work. Work! What about play?

More later ...

Further reading from mcmanweb:


In our phone interview, Dr Jamison stressed that exuberance comes in degrees. The people in her book tend to experience it in supersized dimensions, but even those who are depressed can catch it like a contagion. "Joy infects," she writes. "Expressive individuals strongly influence the moods of those who are unexpressive."

Notwithstanding her observation of exuberance as a temperament, the author cites a 1980 study of hers where 35 bipolar patients reported positive benefits to their illness, including increased sensitivity, sexuality, productivity, creativity, and social outgoingness. Virginia Woolf, who is best remembered for her madness and suicide, tends to be forgotten as the person who lit up London’s Bloomsbury group. Said a colleague: " I always felt on leaving her that I had drunk two excellent glasses of champagne. She was a life-enhancer."

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