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Humankind Read-Along Part 8: Make Time to Play

Humankind a hopeful history open to the title page with cat shape lined paper and pen

My cat Hogarth is looking fierce on this fine Meownday evening:

Photo credit: Marian Nisbett

He’s usually a ham! I hope no one today has made you feel the way Hogarth looks in that picture. 

To get your week started, here is Part 8 of the Humankind read-along. 

After reading to page 295, the discussion question reads:

“Our biggest shortfall isn’t in a bank account or budget sheet, but inside ourselves. It’s a shortage of what makes life meaningful. A shortage of play”. 

Do you agree? How does play feature in your life and in the lives of those around you?

One Saturday afternoon, still in my work scrubs, I fell back into bed and cried. For months I had been working at a high volume chiropractic clinic in Northwest Indiana, my first job after graduating with my doctorate. There I was the newest doctor, which meant I was assigned to work every Saturday without fail after the regular work week. 

Having graduated with six-figure student loan debt, I felt the burden to work as hard as I could, not only to serve that high volume of patients, but to pay down the debt and be financially self-sufficient.  All I did was work, recuperate from work, and prepare to go back to work. 

I remember thinking through my tears that Saturday in bed, Is this what the rest of my life looks like? Just working until I die? I was struggling to make it through each day, and I couldn’t imagine surviving even the next couple of decades like this. I felt depleted and disillusioned.

I was overworked and burned out because my life had fallen out of balance. I needed more rest, but I also needed more fun, more play. Whatever the source, I believe that play as Bregman defines it, “the freedom to go wherever curiosity leads,” is essential to a meaningful life. 

While living and working in Indiana the moments that I remember being meaningful were moments of play. Mark, my future husband, gave me a Book of the Month subscription for Christmas. He knew that I used to love reading and the subscription would put books in my hands once again. Taking a book to read on the patio allowed me to escape my grueling job, awaken my imagination, and explore another reality. 

Another meaningful moment of play involves a visit from my sister Jill and her husband Andrew. We swam in the pool across from my building, making up games and jumping in the water over and over again. Afterward we cleaned up and shared stories over veggie curry as the sun went down. 

While these playful times were rare in that stage of my life, since moving on from that position I’ve learned that the purpose of life isn’t just to work really hard at the expense of everything else. At least part of the purpose of life is to enjoy our brief time on this rock. That’s where I think play comes in. Make time to “search and to discover, to experiment and to create [...] for the fun of it” (280). 

When Bregman states that we are in crisis due to a shortage of play, I agree. I’ve lived it as a young professional. The students I tutor live it now: their afternoons and weekends are consumed by homework, extra classes, sports, and music lessons such that they have no free time. 

I remember one time period in which our family was in crisis—not due to a shortage of play, but due to my dad’s cancer and subsequent death. My mom returned to work, had her own health difficulties, and took on the financial responsibilities that previously belonged to my dad. In the midst of frustration and fatigue compounded by grief, Mom used to say, “This isn’t fun. I’m having no fun at all.”

So many of us across myriad situations have found ourselves in a similar state. That was the unspoken thought behind my tears back in Indiana: This is no fun. And no fun—no joy, no play—is its own crisis. Without it, what’s the point of getting through the hard stuff?

I resoundingly agree with Bregman’s take on play. Play is one source of meaning in life, and we are experiencing a shortage of it. I think even while our society is structured to prioritize achievement and financial success, each of us can make individual decisions to include more play in our lives. Sometimes the decision is big—like quitting a toxic job—but sometimes it’s small—like setting aside an hour to read. Finding ways to incorporate play into our lives will make us happier and better as individuals, as families, as a global community. 

What do you think? Do you agree? How does play make life meaningful to you?

On Friday we will continue the read-along with reading to page 346 and responding to the penultimate discussion prompt below:

On page 344, Bregman argues that “tough talk, retaliation, shutting down borders, dropping bombs, dividing up the world into the good guys and the bad - that’s easy. That’s looking the other way.” What do you think?

Until Furday, Hogarth wishes you a playful and relaxing week!

Photo credit: Kate Nisbett



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