A happy talent

Central Park statue May 2007

Central Park, New York City, May 2007

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes we confuse recreational activities with play, but the two are not always linked.  It’s possible to turn recreation– especially organized and scheduled pursuits– into just another task on our to-do list.  It’s also possible to play while engaged in duties that  most people would view as work.  Playfulness is an attitude that is not wholly dependent on external factors.

At its best, play involves some spontaneity.  We’ve all known of children whose lives are so over-scheduled with extra-curricular activities and “recreation” that there is no time to relax, daydream and goof off.  Most of us understand that children need some free time, but this sort of freedom is important for adults, too.  Are you working at your play?  Are there ways you can learn to incorporate play into your work?  Maybe Mary Poppins was onto something!

This post was originally published seven years ago today. You can view the original with comments here.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    Not only do I play at work, but I admit it!
    Them: What are you doing?
    Me: Playing ….
    Sometimes the interruption sparks me to drop my pursuit and “get back to work,” but if I’m in the lab trying to figure out how to assemble something or make something work, or if I’m playing with statistics software to see if there are interesting trends in data, I might feel justified in playing, as what I learn in playing may advise my future approach to solving a problem. But I’m having so much fun, it would be hard to call it “working!”
    It’s a nice gig, if you can get it! 😉

    • Susan, it’s a great gig, and I think many problems are more easily solved if we are somehow able to step away from the gravity of a “SERIOUS” approach. Along those same lines, I think Mrs. Grossman and other like-minded entrepreneurs were brilliant in allowing dogs into workplace settings. I’ll always remember my first factory tour there, when we were exploring the HUGE warehouse and suddenly noticed the adorable, well-behaved canines ambling about here and there. Instantly an already fun setting became party-level joy!

      • How interesting! I like that story about Andrea Grossman; I really didn’t know anything about it!

        • I totally love her stickers, and apparently lots of other people do too. The factory is a fun place to tour.

  2. Steve C Bodiford

    Great thoughts. I was not able to find “play within my compensation choices” post college. So, I looked outside the box in other areas of life that remunerations were not included in my duties. Duties were no longer seemed such because the heart was fully intact. It’s then that one has to draw some type of equity between that which is duty and that which we find our hearts trapped in other arenas. A careful drawing of the boundaries for sure.
    I very much enjoyed your thoughts and subject matter with this piece Julia…Thank you!

    • Steve, I agree that duty cannot always be made festive or playful. There’s a lot of well-meaning advice to “do what you love” but do people who say that really realize how many vital jobs (care-giving, garbage collecting, bathroom cleaning to name just a few of the more obvious ones) would go undone if nobody was willing to do the less-fun, less-glamorous work it takes to keep the world turning? My deepest respect goes to those who are willing to step forward and do what most people find disagreeable. And as you express, there are other avenues to fulfill the need for fun and play. If we are lucky, the fun may sometimes overlap with the duty, or at least recharge the batteries that enable us to keep going. Thanks for these thoughts. It’s always a joy to see you here.

  3. mike c.

    I think i have mentioned this garden being about three blocks from my younger sons place on Lexington in NYC. It is my second favorite garden in NYC- the Conservatory – only to the Brooklyn Botanical- with its famous Bonsai collection. Last trip to the Conservatory garden they had some beautiful tall Japanese anemones and also some new species that I could not identify.
    We had a great trip to Destin , FL. and I have decided that about 6 hours in a car for one day is my limit. I used to think about driving cross country but now –I don’t think so. My cousin from Portland has retired there and has a nice place right on the water.

    • Mike, I have never been to either garden, but I’m determined to go sometime, hopefully soon. One think I love about living in the DC area is how easily one can get to NYC, and yet I don’t do it nearly often enough. I agree with you, too, that 6-7 hours is all the driving I want to do in one day. Although airports and the TSA are making that a tough call anymore. If I was ever in the mood for cross-country driving, I think I’d head out to Wyoming or Montana and drive over to Idaho then south through Utah and see all the parks I could manage. But even that would be quite a stretch and I’d want to take lots of overnights (in very nice hotels or B&Bs, assuming there are any) all along the way.

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