The Game of Life

As work pressures mount and free time dwindles, it's more important than ever to recapture the joy of play

| March/April 2001


The Game of Life
-Mark Harris

-Andy Steiner

Running Scared
-Craig Cox

The Miracle of Mediocrity
-Jon Spayde

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I traveled to downstate Illinois recently to visit a friend and her 8-year-old daughter, Lillian. Early one morning, Lillian and I were sitting in the living room as she waited for her mother to drive her to school.

Lillian asked me if I was planning to stay another night. I said I wasn’t sure. 'Why?' I asked. 'Do you have plans for later?' Lillian scrunched up her face. 'I’m a kid,' she blurted out. 'Do you think I have plans?' Then she added, as if to emphasize what really goes on in her household, 'My mother has plans.'

Like most children, Lillian does not have a day planner or a Rolodex. Her life is lived in the moment, filled with adventure and imagination, silliness and laughter, curiosity and learning. Despite rules, responsibilities, and motherly planning, a child’s world is usually simmering with fun, ready to bubble up at a moment’s notice.

Children are the masters of play. It’s what they do. It’s also the way they learn, how they acquire cognitive and motor skills. As adults we still play, but less spontaneously. We tend to schedule our play time. When, that is, we can find time to schedule.

In fact, leisure time has dramatically eroded in recent decades, down to about 16.5 hours a week, report the editors of the Harvard Health Letter. This is in part because of a rise in single-parent and two-wage-earner families, with all their attendant chaos. But it’s also because a lot of us are working more—about a month more per year than was the norm in the 1960s.

Fifty years ago, commentators wondered what we were going to do with all the extra leisure time generated by the 'automation revolution.' But the technological good life has instead fostered a national epidemic of overwork, stress, and too little rest. As many as 30 percent of Americans say they experience great stress almost daily. Sleep disorders and exhaustion have become all too common.

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