“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” ~ Albert Einstein

I was being playful today. As I was enjoying the moments of fun and happiness that went along with the playfulness, it occurred to me that I am often very playful. I also realized that I am often at my most creative when I am allowing myself to be playful. I come up with wild new ideas … they float right up vs. having to go looking for them.

I am, by nature, a pretty playful person. It doesn’t mean that I do not give importance to things or that I cannot be serious or that I do not accomplish things. I do (lots of things as a matter of a fact). It is not so much about the doing or the importance about what I do … it is the state of being I am in as I engage with things.

Being in this particular playful spirit I got off on a tangent as I began to research how fun, humor and playfulness impact creativity. By gosh … there it was … chunks of researched evidence … scientific studies … and even lists of brilliant creative people through history who were playful. Ahhhhhhhhh, exactly what I needed to validate myself!

If that is not enough there was other really juicy findings such as playful people perform better, have better cognitive and emotional function, are bored less, more spontaneous and out-going and cope with stress better. I was beginning to jump up and down and get giddy just thinking about it!

Adult playfulness, it seems is a fairly new area of study for researchers and scientists. It occurs that for centuries they have been studying much more serious things. Oh, and then the beginning studies were, of course, done with children … because they are naturally allowed to be playful. But in the last 50 years research on creativity in adults has begin to show that playfulness, fun and humor have a positive impact on the quantity of ideas and the quality of creative thinking. WHOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

And how exactly do these researcher define playfulness? I had to know so I could check and see if I was indeed playful (I needed to make sure before getting too excited). In their book, Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation, authors Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin define it as, “cheerful, frisky, frolicsome, good-natured, joyous, merry, rollicking, spirited, sprightly

[and/or] vivacious.” OK, I can live with that!

Just to make sure I checked other sources (I needed to take this seriously). Mary Ann Glynn and Jane Webster, published a paper in the early 1990s that described adult playfulness as “a predisposition to define and engage in activities in a non-serious or fanciful manner to increase enjoyment.” OMG, YES … to increase enjoyment, now we are talking my talk!

There were some really surprising facts that I found such as: children laugh on an average 300 times a day where adults laugh on average less than 20 times a day and mostly only when in the company of others who are laughing. It would occur that the process of aging strips away our fun and playfulness as surely as it does our innocence.

But the real shocking discovery is that this is not a biological decline … our inclination towards self-consciousness and fear of judgment and embarrassment as we age is the culprit. We don’t even forget how to be playful as our memory declines … we just kill it off so we can be accepted and more respectable. We take on seriousness as more important than forms of levity.

So there you have it … the researchers proved that adults DO have the capacity to be playful. Even the most serious and responsible adults sometimes engage in playful activity. They will pursue delight and things that amuse them and others. We are even capable of bouncing back and forth from being serious creatures to being playful without any damage to us. Yes, there is hope!

Now one thing to caution us with is to realize that not all play is playful. I am distinguishing this so that we make sure not to get caught off guard. The word play seems to have many uses and meanings … playing the piano, playing hockey, playing the part in a movie, play, etc. These things may be very serious activities. So if we are going to associate playing with playfulness we must make sure it is truly playful play.

So back to creativity … the verdict is in… playfulness, fun and humor and creativity go hand in hand … there is a link! They all loosen us up and free our minds from our otherwise tight constraints. Can I get a shout out here? I am so relieved!! I do admit loving it when science backs up something I believe. ☺

But we can’t be playful all the time – there are times and places when it may not forward the action for us. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, hypothesizes that with creative work there seems to be an idea combo of two modes: divergence which is a “generative mode (play, idea marinating, inspiration seeking)” and convergence which is a “DO mode (coming back together to look for and create the solution)”. When we utilize these two together magic happens.

One thing noted, however, in much of the research I went through, was that playfulness may require, for some people, a trusted, safe environment, particularly if they are not used to being playful. So in the spirit of playfulness I have decided that I can be that space for anyone who comes into my path. It will be my pleasure. It will amuse me and allow for me to be frisky and merry … for no other reason than just to increase my enjoyment and the enjoyment of others. And if more creativity comes out of it … then so be it … I can always use a boost of more creativity!

Having fun yet? Feeling a tug to be playful?

Let it out! ENJOY IT! Let’s see what happens! Feel free to share with me/us what your experiences with playfulness and creativity have led you … the more the merrier I think!