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The best New Year’s resolution has more to do with silly faces than it does the gym

This year, let’s play — we need it

Well Hoos, we’ve made it to 2018. Are you surprised? Last semester is finally behind us, the sun is rising in front of us on a shiny new calendar year and we’re ready to greet it with new planners chalked full of resolutions.

We’ve resolved to do so many things — climb mountains, put our phones down, write letters, run marathons, volunteer. Many resolutions revolve around refining who we are as people, helping others, continuing to pursue dreams we’ve previously been afraid to approach. This first week of January emboldens us to carry on — better than we have before. We long for newness, for freedom from what’s been binding us, for happiness for us and for others.

So many resolutions revolve around our health, and they should. However, it seems that around the New Year more than any time, we contain our imagination and ambitions to our bodies. We want to try smoothie bowl diets, revolutionize our gym routine and finally try that gluten free pasta we’ve been eyeing at Trader Joe’s.

Inside our bodies is something that may need more of our attention as we strive for our healthiest year yet — and that’s our hearts.

Our physical bodies are incredibly important  — they’re a huge part of our holistic personhood that defines our everyday experience and we should care for them kindly and diligently. If your New Year’s resolution is to feel better in your own skin, please hear me loud and clear when I say I am for you! I hope you climb every single mountain on your list, from Humpback to Old Rag.

I want to spend a moment talking about the other kind of mountains we will climb — those we can rarely see, those we rarely chose and those that take more strength than we could ever physically exert. In 2018, there will be mental and emotional weight we will lift that can’t be placed back on the rack after half an hour of exertion. We dealt with pain, injustice and suffering in 2017. We also experienced incredible joy. All of which, I am quite certain, will also find us in 2018.

I’m hesitant to write about this subject for a few different reasons, most particularly because I feel as though “self-care” can become another laborious task on the to do list we are supposed to be resting from. It turns into scheduling more yoga or reading more books — doing more of this or that. And then, suddenly, it blends into the business.

I think meditation, counseling, breathing exercises and long walks are wonderful. I do them, schedule them, try them and take them. But those are actions, and what I actually believe we need a little more of is an attitude — silliness.

Over the past several years, study after study has been published with findings supporting the correlation between silliness and the enhanced ability to navigate high-pressure, stressful life dynamics in healthy ways. We need to approach life with playfulness not because it’s a walk in the park, but because it’s a very difficult short-term mission trip, and we need to laugh to size up all we see and equip ourselves with eyes to put it in proportion. Not because our circumstances will be light, but because we will need to unload our hearts and allow them to be.

There are small, beautiful joys in each day. Silliness gives us the childlike perspective to capture their opportunities and the creativity to make them if they don’t already exist. Silliness is the willingness to take a break from climbing the ladder and to climb a tree. You can always go back to the ladder.

I have the incredible privilege of living with 14 girls who practice silliness as the everyday antidote for all that leaves us weary and drained, and we have two words for you — Balloon. Drop. One of my housemates is known for hosting balloon drops, which consist of her blowing up several dozens of balloons, placing them within a fishing net tied to the ceiling in a contraption prepared to release its load at the tug of a string. She then showers her friends with vibrant color, most likely to the tune of Taylor Swift’s newest album.

Why? Because it makes her laugh. Because it makes her smile. Because there is joy in delighting in balloons in the same manner a five-year-old would.  

What’s your balloon drop? How will you play in 2018? What will you do because you’re free and alive and smaller than we usually think of ourselves?

My first week of 2018 may end up being one of the hardest weeks I will face all year. Expectations were overturned by family conflict, by weather, by human brokenness — absolutely nothing went as planned. People and snow were cold and careless. Disappointment attempted to reign with an iron fist, and I was ready to let it.

Thankfully my best friend didn’t let this happen. We spoke in funny accents and baby voices. We made faces when no one else was looking. We freed ourselves to be goofy, to admit we didn’t have all the answers and to see that there was still good. We danced through stores and played hide and seek. We ate eggnog ice cream. The sun came up on Sunday.

This isn’t avoiding our issues or minimizing our pains — this is moving through it with the freedom to know that it will be, and is, still okay to laugh, to sing, to dance, to play — and that we will, and can, again.

The experts agree. In “What playfulness can do for you: Research discovers the many benefits of being a goofball,” published in The Boston Globe, Leon Neyfakh wrote:

“Another intriguing finding, reported by University of Illinois associate professor and playfulness expert Lynn A. Barnett, is that playful people are less likely to encounter stress in their lives, and that when they do, they’re better at coping with it. ‘People who are playful don’t run away from stress, they deal with it — they don’t do avoidance,’ Barnett said.”

Drop your balloons in 2018, Hoos. Not because you’re ignoring the issues, but because you’re smack dab in the middle of them, and because you believe they’re going to be okay.

Let’s make 2018 the year of play.