Jón Gnarr: My Opinion - Playfulness

By Jón Gnarr
Jón Gnarr
Jón Gnarr
I really want to talk about playfulness, the importance of playing, alone or with others, at something that gives you joy and happiness. Play has an important role in the development of the brain. It is a part of intelligence. The young of most animals spend a lot of time playing. The play prepares them for challenges later in life, but also works as training for their minds. Humans are children longer than other animals. The foal of the zebra runs with the herd a few hours after it is born, while the human child is almost entirely helpless for the first few years.

Now, it would be easy to conclude, based on our ideas about the development of the brain and general evaluation of intelligence, that zebras are considerably smarter than humans. From the moment they are born they have to learn to cope, be resourceful and work under pressure. Zebras have to have good powers of observation in order to survive. A three month old foal is considerably more self-sufficient than human children of the same age. While the foal of the zebra is running around at up to 50 kilometers per hour on its four legs, the human child is just beginning to crawl and doesn’t quite know how to use its two legs. But this changes quickly. With time, this innocent and vulnerable child becomes the most intelligent creature on earth, standing head and shoulders above the zebra. And the foundation of the intelligence is precisely laid during these first years. The brain gets the peace and time to mature. And here, carelessness and play are of the greatest importance. Many people find it hard to understand this.


Children and play are closely connected. Children play. Playfulness is much more important in human society than we generally realize. Playfulness is essential in every creative process. Our life begins with playfulness. The games that we used to play as children are often the most enjoyable memories that we have. But when we grow older we stop playing. Playing becomes even shameful and “childish”. We want to show others that we are grown-ups and not children. Then playing often becomes associated with stupidity and mental deficiency. “Silliness!” And we stop “acting like fools” and become grown-ups, serious and worried.

The reason we spend such a long time growing up cannot be to prepare us for a long and solemn life. Is it possible that our brain is full of all kinds of wealth that we don’t see, the value of which we don’t understand and don’t know how to harness and use? What is an idea? Where does it come from, if not from our own mind? Finding an idea is in many ways like finding a gold or diamond mine. Some people live well all their lives on one good idea, business, work of art, discovery, or even one song.

Nervous but very hard-working zebras

Studies have shown that people who play are happier than people who don’t. People who have playfulness as part of their life are more successful than people who don’t. To be hard-working, independent and resourceful is very good. But in and of itself, it is not enough. It is only one part of our intelligence. Playfulness is another part. One does not preclude the other. When the logical and the practical thoughts work together with playfulness, we are usually at our best.

The playfulness of adults is, however, usually limited to our spare time, with family or friends, and often peaks during sex. But before you know it, it’s Monday again and people go back to work and the seriousness of life takes over. Very few workplaces have a specific stance concerning playfulness. In most workplaces it is frowned upon and happy people are even encouraged to smile less and work harder. But when we look at the companies that are most successful internationally, it is remarkable how many of them emphasize playing. Google is probably the best example. Play is an important part of the working day and employees are almost encouraged to be lazy, and silliness is part of working for Google. It has also been a pleasant surprise that employees are usually most productive during breaks.

The tension decreases and during casual playfulness the brain gets an opportunity to get new ideas. I think we should pay more attention to this in our society. Not because it is cozy and nice, but because it is an investment for the future. It is like finding and buying land where you are convinced that there are natural resources underground. You can’t see it on the surface but under it, there is gold. Creative ideas are the natural resources of the future. Those who realize this will become leaders and will stand head and shoulders above others while those who don’t will run around like nervous but very hard-working zebras.

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