May Happiness Project Blog: Be Serious About Play

By Shamyla Tareen
One evening last week, I was bumming around the mall with a friend when we passed the indoor carousel for the umpteenth time.  As the music tinkled, thoughts of the Happiness Project wafted through my brain, and a light bulb went on.
“Hey! Have you ever been on that?” I asked her with a big grin.
“Uh, no… why would I?” she said, incredulously, looking a little scared.
I grabbed her hand. “Me either. Let’s go!!!” I ignored all manner of protest, got us two tickets, and within minutes: voila! Two dignified adult women in their 30’s, a respected doctor and an earnest social worker, were twirling around and around, pretending our horses were galloping and yelling out, “wheeee!” (Some people in the neighboring Starbucks, by the way, were also pretty amused by this state of affairs.) I hadn’t sat on the merry go round in 25 years… and I loved every moment of it.
No one dreams of growing up to have a boring life when they’re a child. Adulthood is filled with mundane chores, sacrifices, and heartache that you don’t really think about when you’re 10 and wishing you were already grown. In the Happiness Project, Gretchen talks about being preoccupied with work and  her mental to-do list.  She states, “studies show that the absence of feeling bad isn’t enough to make you happy; you must strive to find sources of feeling good.” Reading that, I decided to push myself to more actively schedule time to play and have fun.
If I didn’t, my life would look a lot like what I call “This Stale American Life” (and I am sure you can relate, too:)  It’s morning. Your alarm clock buzzes. Sigh, get up, fall back in bed (or out of it!) hit snooze again. You burn your breakfast and run out the door,  hoping everything you have on is matching and that you didn’t leave any electrical appliances on. You get angry at both the slow 18 wheeler and the flashy Benz that cuts you off in traffic. At work, there’s reports in red, cattiness, unclear demands, endless piles of paperwork.  After 8 + hours, you get to your car and find a flat tire. More time getting that fixed,then face more insane traffic. You pull out dinner and scarf it down,  ignoring the 2 inches of dust on your furniture and the voice mails on your phone. Eventually you zone out in front of the TV or the internet until you pass out on the couch from sheer exhaustion. Wake up and repeat.  Can you relate? Where is the time to play?

The first thing I had to do was assuage my guilt. I was raised with the ideas of duty, discipline, and hard work drummed into my head. (I heard, “FOCUS, Shamyla!” so many times as an adolescent  I started wondering if maybe “focus” was my first name!) The idea of focusing on playing around and having fun to improve the quality of my life, when the word “Play” had clashing connotations with my internal values, was a process. How would I do this without feeling like a  clown or a very silly person, and still maintain credibility?

The second thing to do was to convince my friends to actually join in this attempt at innocent play. This included hilarious moments: taking a cardboard cut-out we had made of a  friend for his birthday, all over our neighborhood and taking silly pictures with it; renting the movie “Pootie Tang” (Google it, that’s all I can say!); convincing another friend (and myself) to try a strenuous hike in Shenandoah Valley (and extracting promises from the group that neither bears nor members of the hiking party would eat me up if we got stranded in the woods); turning a boring South Asian wedding into a photography session by getting all the “aunties” and “uncles” to start posing in funny ways in a parking lot. (Great fun was had by all!) I made sure to schedule time to see my friends’ babies and one’s puppy. Have you ever wondered why dogs are so great? It’s because they live in the moment and find joy in … everything! (walk? food? sticks? squirrels? YEAH!!!!)

To me, playing also means finding joy in the mundane. Traffic ? Well it is annoying, but that means I have a nice car, something I never dreamed I’d have when I was 16 years old, something many people will never have. I download new music, make sure my iPod is charged and check out different cars on the road. Work woes? Well, I have a good job and financial freedom, something many people never expected me to achieve, so I find reasons to smile and talk to my colleagues about their interesting lives. Being stretched thin with social commitments? That’s difficult, but I am blessed – I have found much love and acceptance.  I even tried to talk to my mother about the value of playing. even though I was faced with a barrage of questions: “What kind of play? You mean to keep ones sanity one should play? Play like mountain climbing or scuba diving? Play like jump rope? Play on words? Play like on Broadway? Play like Government Officials in Pakistan playing with all the people’s money? What are you talking about??!”
Playing also means finding a new take on something sad or serious. A friend with a sick baby and I decided to play with Tarot Cards one afternoon while we took turns holding him. We celebrated my uncle’s 80th birthday party this month; I watched members of my family put aside their differences, drama, and health issues  to simply enjoy it (pretty miraculous!) Cancer took on a new definition, as my mother, my cousin, some friends, and I  walked the 3 mile Susan G. Komen Race for The Cure in DC on one rainy May morning. (If you want to play on the Metro, by the way, take it on Race Day. You’ll never see so much laughter or pink on every train going into DC!)

The best moment to play around came in the middle of this month, at yet another wedding. I was prepared to be stuffed with more super greasy South Asian food and boring speeches. Instead, I forced myself to dance with my friends (the train is a lot of fun if you’ve never done it) and got on the stage with the bride and groom to take some very lovely pictures. At the end, I even lined up with all the girls to catch the bride’s bouquet as she tossedblog it. Ironically, shockingly, I saw the bouquet coming straight towards me. I put out my hands and thought , “this is interesting” and suddenly, I caught it!! I could not believe this happened. I’ve never won, caught or been lucky with even small things like that. This was such a great moment…. I laughed like a loon for the rest of the night.

Life throws its curve balls at you for sure; no one is more aware of this than me.  I’ve managed to survive, I think, by finding the joy in every single situation I’ve been in. That is the mission of my life, and finding time to play is a huge part of it, something I will continue to implement in my life no matter what.

3 Comments on “May Happiness Project Blog: Be Serious About Play

  1. Very true… we need to find enjoyment in the everyday things of life… there is a lot of joy and happiness in the simple things… we just need to recognize that..

  2. An interesting post. Until very recently I’ve always seen play as frivolous and foolish, and I tried to eliminate it from my life in favor of more ‘practical’ things. I learned the lessons you espouse in this article the hard way, and I hope others learn to take play seriously before it’s too late.

  3. I could definitely relate to being preoccupied with my mental-to-do list! I also enjoyed your anecdote about trying to explain the notion of “play” to your Mom and all of her questions! I have a very good friend with whom I can be silly and just play and I so enjoy the time spent with her doing just that!

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