Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Habit of Happiness

I had the honor of being quoted in a recent newspaper op-ed piece that emphasized the importance of parents and children spending time playing together.  Here is what I said:

"In my lectures and workshops I have spent so much time detailing how there are SO MANY developmental benefits to parents getting involved in play with their children that I fear I may have neglected to mention the most important reason of all. It's a joy! When we take time to play with our children we are sharing the habit of happiness with them. That's a habit we can hope they hold on to for the rest of their lives."

The habit of happiness.  I was proud of that line!  Perhaps I should use that phrase more often!

But when the piece appeared in the newspaper I started thinking.......maybe those words are simply too good to just happen to roll off my tongue.  Had I heard this phrase or read this line before?  If so, where could that have been?  I had a suspicion.

If something simple and profound has been written about play, I thought, it most likely can be traced back to Maria Piers.  She was one of the founders of the Erikson Institute and taught the celebrated course on play there for many years.  Sure enough, this morning I found my copy of The Gift of Play and discovered, on pages 43 and 44, this passage:

"........pretend one of the most valuable kinds, perhaps the most valuable kind, of play in which preschoolers can engage.  Such play develops creativity, intellectual competence, emotional strength and stability - and, wonderfully, feelings of joy and pleasure.  The habit of being happy."

So I did not use Maria's exact words.......and I used them in a different context: in my case,  in a discussion of parent-child play.  But the key phrase that makes you stop and think and smile - "the habit of being happy" - belongs to Maria Piers. 

I hadn't read The Gift of Play in over fifteen years.  This morning, as I sat and read it again,  I realized just how influential the book - and its simple wisdom - has been in my own work and my own way of thinking.   In fact, as I read through the book I realized that one of my goals, writing a book about play, is rather silly.  The book I'd like to write has already been written.  It's called, of course, The Gift of Play, co-authored by Maria Piers and Genevieve Millet Landau (who was editor-in-chief of Parents’ Magazine). 

Sadly, the book, published in 1980, has been out of print for many years.   I found my copy long ago at a used bookstore.

On this read I couldn't stop myself from highlighting passage after passage.  In future posts I'll share some of my favorites.  And I promise to give Maria full credit for her gift of using truly inspiring language to celebrate play.