The Very Serious Benefits of Being Silly

It’s time to revisit all the dumb things we found hilarious as kids

Credit: MoMo Productions/Getty Images

Over the past year, when I couldn’t do the things that normally brought me joy — travel, go to concerts, chat over tea with my best friend — I tried to cope in all the expected ways. I read, exercised, and learned some new skills. I forced myself to see the pandemic as an opportunity for gentle self-growth. But as the weeks stretched into months of being trapped at home, none of it was enough. I felt dull, like a robot on autopilot.

Illustrations: Kaki Okumura

When was the last time I laughed until it hurt to breathe? I asked myself. It was way before the pandemic started. Probably was when I was a child. That’s when it struck me: I had a fun life before the days of Netflix binges and doomscrolling and I knew I could get back to it again. I just needed to up my goofiness to save me from myself. It was time, I decided, to bring out the kid in me.

There’s been little research on playfulness in adults. But recent studies led by René Proyer, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, found that playful people — those who are spontaneous, creative, outgoing, fun-loving, and lighthearted — appear to be better at coping with stress and finding novel solutions to problems. The best thing is, you don’t need any special skills or preparation to be playful. All you need to do is play.

In all sorts of day-to-day situations, I tried to infuse a little bit of childlike silliness: I printed out pictures of my friends, made them into cutouts, and seated them at the table. I made pancake cereal, spending several hours forming hundreds of tiny pancakes (because pancakes just taste better when they’re adorably mini!). I used a photo design website to create a nice custom puzzle for my grandparents, but secretly filled it with Easter eggs of our family members’ faces. I hosted a picnic, in which the most memorable moment was not another recap of the latest Covid news, but when I took two clementines and balanced them on my sister’s eyes. I know it sounds dumb, but when you do it mid-conversation, it’s hilarious. Highly recommend.

And as I found myself becoming goofier, something delightful happened: My family started matching my energy. Our whole house became playful. Every time we were about to drive somewhere, we called “shotgun” and raced toward the car (because everyone knows it doesn’t count if you just say the word “shotgun”). We would steal each others’ phones and hide selfies with creepy filters in one another’s camera rolls. We’d order French macarons with our faces printed on them. I wonder what antics we’ll come up with next.

These past few months have certainly still been rough, but filling my time with dumb, childish, mischievous humor has kept me going. I haven’t been productive and I’m not sure I’ve improved myself much, but that doesn’t matter right now. I found my inner goofy child. And I finally feel like me again.

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: 🌱

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