Play and Happiness...Is there a connection?

As far back as I can remember, all my fondest memories involved an element of play. Those memories were social, they were out of my normal routine, they were meaningful, and they had a sense of autonomy. When I hear the word play I also think of the word recreation. At the root of recreation is the word re-create. When I take time to enjoy myself, I feel like I have an opportunity to re-create myself. In Genesis 2, God creates Adam, making him a living being, a soul. The Bible teaches us that there is a healthy connection between refreshing yourself and the health of your soul. Our souls are in need of constant re-creation through play, rest, and enjoying God’s creation.

I love outdoor physical activities, always have, and will always feel this is the best form of recreation/play for me. Timing could not have been better for me to write this blog entry. It has been on the calendar for six months, a couple’s get-away weekend in wine country of Northern California. I am not a wine drinker but I do enjoy IPA beer, and once I heard that Northern California has its share of tasty craft breweries as well, the deal was sealed. We landed last Thursday; sixty degree weather, sunny skies and no wind all being a pleasant change from this year’s harsh Iowa winter. Man cannot live by craft beer alone, I needed some play to fill my day.

One of my favorite play activities is to go for a long run when visiting new places. Believe it or not, for me running is fun. Running allows me to see more in less time than walking; running burns three times as many calories in the same amount of time as walking, which allows me to enjoy more craft beer. Friday’s run felt different from the first step. At the time I could not pinpoint the exact reason but as the run progressed it became more and more clear. A piece of this blog was being written with each step of the run. In fact, this whole blog post unfolded in front of my eyes in a forty-eight hour timeframe with my four best friends as contributors. We had two choices for the run; do an easy run on a flat terrain along the ocean or run up a hill with no apparent end. Democracy ruled and we chose the uphill challenging route, I love my friends. Prior to starting. we did not determine how far or how long we were going to run, we just headed up the hill. We started at 29 feet above sea level, 2.5 miles and 1100 feet of elevation later we all cried “uncle”. Do the math, that is a 9.2 average grade for 2.5 miles. If you have ever run uphill that far, it is not the uphill that kills the legs, your quadriceps take an absolute hammer-like pounding when running downhill. Along the way we ran together most of the time but there were times we broke apart. We encountered mud, lots of mud; we encountered furry, small cows, that looked like Oreo cookies (black and white). We found out later they are called panda cows--really, look them up. Happiness experts say that true play needs to meet four criteria— Was it social? Check. Something outside the norm? Check. Autonomy? Check. Meaningful? Double check.

We finished the first day with a beautiful hike along Highway 1, a lot of adult beverages, and an amazing seafood dinner. How could play get any better? Well, I found out the next day. I have been on my share of zipline courses but never a multi-stage, multi-level, multi-dimensional zipline in the Redwoods of Northern California. These beautiful trees are upwards of 300 feet tall, fourteen feet in diameter, and 1300 years old. Our course included seven different ziplines requiring the use of multiple carabiners, three spiral staircases to maneuver, three suspended wooden bridges, and one sixty foot rappel to finish.  All this while being 100-300 feet off the ground. My favorite zipline was called Delta. It was the highest, fastest, and longest zipline of the day. We had two guides for our trip, Reese and Ardith. Both were outstanding as guides and each had a unique role in guiding us through the trees. We learned about the trees, we learned what was in our control (speed and spinning), some things that were completely out of our control (wind and tree movement), but never once did our guides make us feel unsafe. That is what good leaders do, you believe and trust in them even when your senses tell you otherwise. Back to Delta, what a beauty; over 200 feet in the air, 1500 feet long, and top speeds over 45mph. If I were wearing a heart monitor, it would have been red-lining when I took the step off the platform. Almost forty-five seconds later, I reached the other side of this zipline; I do not fully remember reaching it, but my wife said my smile was priceless. We finished the zipline course with a new appreciation for the Redwoods. The action of ziplining is doing but I wanted to be in the Redwoods, I wanted to savor the Redwoods. To savor the Redwoods you have to be at ground level with these behemoth-sized trees. If you have ever seen Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, the Endor scenes are filmed in the Redwood National & State Park. Several times during our walk, I closed my eyes to get a better smell of the trees. I was marveled by the sheer size and age of the trees. These trees date back to 800 AD, six hundred years before Columbus discovered America, wow!

Day two concluded with another amazing meal at Union Hotel, more adult beverages, and belly laughs with my wife, my four best friends and their respective spouses. Unfortunately, day three meant time to head home to Iowa. I am recalling what an amazing trip it was; full of of play, mindfulness (each day for me started with reading a chapter from Tim Tebow’s book This Is The Day), savoring, and friendship. I would like to say as a result of this trip that I am re-created!