I have a confession to make: I love to climb trees and to sometimes dance around the house singing along with pop music. The climbing and tree loving is leftover from childhood (along with the love of walking in the rain and splashing in puddles). With long blond braids flopping down my back, my five-year-old-self would scale the sassafras tree in the front yard of my Pennsylvania home. I'd spend hours in the tree's branches, while reading books and watching birds, insects, chipmunks and squirrels. I felt so grounded...well...when not being on the ground.
Wiggling my butt to music and cutting loose in song was a subconscious act at first, until I discovered how free it made me feel in what was otherwise a structured life. Lisa Riecken, chief growth officer at Lument, says, "We are so consumed with paying bills, getting our list of to-dos done, being perfect parents, being devoted friends, being healthy and fit, being successful in business and covering all of the bases of our lives that we lose sight of what's really important: ourselves and our families and being happy and joyful."
During the last decade, researchers around the globe have focused on the importance of silliness or playfulness. Rene Proyer, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, has written more than a dozen papers on the subject, and found that people who exhibit high levels of playfulness or silliness are often outgoing, spontaneous, creative and fun-loving, but also better equipped to cope with stress, to lead active lifestyles and to succeed academically. Additionally, researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that playful or silly behavior makes people more attractive to others.
Silliness often causes laughter, which helps lower blood pressure; increases vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood; gives a workout to the diaphragm and to abdominal, respiratory, facial and back muscles; reduces the stress hormone cortisol; and increases memory and learning. Laughter can also help bond you to others.
Riecken realized just how bonding laughter was when her 12-year-old son asked if they could watch "Modern Family" together, even though he didn't really understand the humor in the show. She asked why he wanted to watch it and he responded, "You laugh so hard, Mommy, and I love it when you laugh." Riecken said that she realized then how important it was to say yes to pillow fights, to grape tossing in the grocery store and to all of the silliness that makes her heart smile and sets her inner little girl free.
The above listed health benefits of laughter and silliness are the reasons many companies (Google, Pixar, Facebook, for examples) have introduced playful spaces and activities into their office environments.
According to international business speaker Michael Kerr, one of his clients uses silly string in meetings and "launches a silly string attack whenever someone violates a meeting norm, such as using an overused buzz word or going over their allotted time to speak." Other companies have brought in Nerf balls or rockets, installed outdoor sports courts, encourage the blowing of bubbles as meetings kick off, have costume or theme days or at Ben & Jerry's for example, encourage the wearing of Groucho Marx glasses/nose/mustaches.
Life coach and best-selling author Martha Beck has written repeatedly that the activities that brought us joy as children bring us joy as adults, if we overcome our feelings of "I'm adult now so I shouldn't be doing this."
At Women's Wellness Weekends (www.womenswellnessweekends.com), we build time into the schedule for silliness and relaxation, and we encourage creativity because we understand that people who work hard need to play frivolously even as adults.
So go ahead and cut your sandwich into a smiley face, sing in your car as loudly as you can, run as fast as your legs can carry you (even if you look like Phoebe from "Friends") or roll down a nearby hill. Do something that others may find silly but you find freeing. Repeat regularly and experience glorious changes in your stress levels.