(photo from: news24.com)

Here are 2 challenges I want you to try right now:

Number 1: Think about your most serious problem, and as you do so notice how it makes you feel.
Number 2: Now think about the silliest response you possibly can.

Turn it into something humorous, a joke, and now notice how you feel.

Now, if you ask your intuition for a creative solution to that problem you are far more likely to come up with something useful and insightful. This game, by the way, works better when you do it in a dialog with a friend or colleague, so I want to give you a third challenge: play this game with another person today.

Here’s the research behind this unique strategy: The human and mammalian brain research conducted by Panksepp – and the contributions made by the Positive Psychology movement – points out the essential importance of two instinctual emotions: playfulness and curiosity. For children playfulness is the doorway into meaningful social relationships and the dopamine-driven curiosity of our motivation/reward network allows us to seek out new and potentially pleasurable activities. Together they enhance the enjoyment of learning and the development of value oriented activities.

Think about this: how often have you approached a problem – a relationship conflict, a financially perilous situation, or a negative emotional state – from the place of pleasure, playfulness, and creative curiosity?

I certainly was never encouraged to do so by my teachers or the many mentors I visited, nor did any of my peers support my incessant curiosity to find new ways of understanding myself and my relationship to others.

I’ll bet the same was true for you as well, yes?

I’m not sure why so many people take their problems so seriously. Perhaps it’s the Catholic Christian ethic where anything that is fun or pleasurable separates you from the “serious” contemplation of what “should” be important (and within religious communities that often means God or the suffering of Jesus).

Schools and teachers push playfulness out of the classroom, and therapists often encourage clients to explore the dark side of their past.

We become obsessed with what’s “wrong” about us, paying little attention to our inner goodness and strengths.

Here’s something to consider: most cultures world-wide take far more time to engage in pleasurable activities. This is especially true in poorer countries where 75% of the people express a high degree of happiness and where many people devote considerable energy to relaxation and enjoyable pursuits.

So let’s try my challenge again:
focus on one of your serious problems and approach it in a playful, silly, and humorous way. Make fun of that inner critic telling you what’s wrong with you and what you should be doing to be “perfect.” Then ask your intuition for a solution.

I’m not making fun of serious questions, and there are many issues where silliness could be hurtful to another; in those situations I use my innate curiosity to dialog with the other person who is suffering, with as much empathy, compassion, and kindness as possible. Then, when a new perspective emerges, together we can play with it and seek out even more insights and discoveries. It breaks through the barrier of seriousness and allows the creative and intuitive parts of your brain (the Salience and Imagination/Default Networks) to come up with exciting new ways to achieve the goals you desire.

Marco Giannecchini, MD