How much time did you spend over the holiday season playing video games or watching football? If you’re like the majority of Americans it was a lot. Gaming companies know that Thanksgiving is the most popular day for online game-playing..followed close behind by the Christmas holidays.
I didn’t spend my holiday doing either of these things, but I understand people who did.
Games and competition make people feel connected and alive. For his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied what makes people profoundly happy. He says, “people need to engage in enjoyable activities with clear goals and immediate feedback….that allow use of skills and opportunity for improvement.” He’s talking about games!
“Boredom and frustration cause families and personal relationships to disintegrate because people do not experience ‘flow’ in their family life,” he also says. Now I know why during holidays I feel restless! It’s because I am addicted to ‘flow’, or playing towards a goal. Since most people don’t have their attention on projects or games during this time there is no one to play with, and consequently no game.
After reading the book, I decided this holiday season would be different. It was.
Though I spend much time with high-level management executives, community leaders, and creative entrepreneurs, I learn the most from my 8-year-old twin boys. Like all kids, they’re geniuses at creating games.
For example, lugging heavy suitcases across the airport turns into a ‘push the lawn-mower-race’…with the suitcase as the lawnmower. Long boring drives in the car turn into burping contests, a game of find-the-alphabet, or a finish-the-story contest.
M.C. states that “Even routine details can be transformed into personally meaningful games that provide optimal experiences.”
Well I discovered this is true! In the moments when my family and I were playing towards a specific goal, or engaged in an activity together, we had more harmony!!
Games bring us together. M.C. makes the case that in the animal kingdom, species that cooperate are more likely to survive. It’s the same with humans. Cooperation comes when we play together..even if we are competing to win.
One rainy day when my brother and I were in charge of all the kids (four boys) we discovered that no Xbox, no dvd, no DSR could compete with the fun of a spontaneous game of charades. Even though my brother and I are both competitive types…we silently agreed that a ‘win’ meant that all the kids could feel successful.
So we made sure each of the kids had plenty of turns to ‘act out’, everyone got plenty of chances to guess the answer, and each boy got acknowledged for his abilities at guessing and performing.
After two and a half hours of pure enjoyment, we had laughed our heads off and seen the kids act out scenes from Madagascar II (granny punching out Marty the lion was a big hit), Mario Brothers, and Jimmy Neutron (to name a few). We had acted out scenes from paintings, scenes from our family history, scenes of previous charades games, and as the game wound down, we found we had become closer than we were before.
I only see my brother but once a year and sometimes feel like he is a stranger to me. In those two hours I felt closer to him than I ever have before. And, I felt like I got to know him better than any other time, even though we weren’t talking about his life or his work. I just observed how he played, how he stuck to the rules when needed, how flexible he was to bend the rules sometimes too…in order to allow for the younger kids to catch up. I saw how he sacrificed his attention and emotional energy to make sure everyone had fun…and the pleasure it brought him to see our young boys winning at the game. I learned we have much in common in terms of our core values.
Another rare moment of connection came during our ice skating adventure at Whole Foods. My boys had never been ice skating before and were not taking to it. At first I thought they were deliberately being reckless on their skates, crashing into walls, tumbling into people, slamming down onto the ice with their skated feet flailing through the air.
I soon realized they weren’t being silly and crazy on purpose, they were just really terrible at it. Johannes in particular took a very nasty spill and hit his head pretty hard on the ice. After that, I proposed we try to ‘stay on our feet for as long as possible’ (the game), and that we ‘do it together!’ I held his hand until he got his balance and got the rhythm of skating. We went around and around the rink, me yanking on his arm sometimes just to keep him on his feet.
After about 15 minutes went by, I said, “You are doing great! You have stayed on your feet now for a long time!”
“That’s because I’m holding your hand,” he said. My heart swelled with love and I felt a precious moment of connection with him…with my boy who will one day begin the adventure of pulling away from me to become a man…
Moments like this made it a very special holiday, perhaps the best one ever. And all because I engaged in (and sometimes initiated) activities that brought my loved ones and I into flow, playing, stretching our limits, being a team.
In the times we were not playing, we lost energy and we lost valuable opportunities for deeper connections with each other. It may be easier than you think to find effortless flow, but you need a reason to do it. What’s your reason to play? Maybe you just need to know that when you don’t play, you pay…with lost time and energy.
Click here to learn more about how to introduce Coaching to your family system.