By all accounts, Anthony DeBenedet was living the American dream. Growing up in a loving upper middle class family, he attended one of the nation’s top universities, went to medical school, joined a thriving internal medicine practice, married the woman of his dreams, and began raising a family.

But as he approached his middle years, despite all his success, Anthony realized that his life was becoming increasingly intense. He described it as “blurring into this frazzled mosaic of busyness, exhaustion and seriousness that swirled around my career, family life, relationships —everything that comes with adulthood.”

On the verge of full blown burnout, Anthony considered the lifestyle factors –sleep, diet, exercise and stress reduction–that he so frequently discussed with his patients. Resolving that none of these were the culprits, he experienced what he called “a big aha” that led him on a path of healing and restoration.

The Missing Ingredient: Fun

By “fun,” Anthony wasn’t referring to outcomes like taking more vacations or creating time for hobbies, family or leisure. It was much more about process; that is, his internal approach to the complications of everyday life . Here’s how he puts it:

Was the intensity of adulthood causing me to make less time for fun? It didn’t feel this way to me, nor did it seem to be true in the lives of the adults I knew. Then came a realization: maybe it wasn’t play or fun that stress cuts into, but rather the playful part of our personalities. As the intensity of adulthood grows, perhaps the playfulness that’s inside us erodes. It’s not about taking life less seriously, it’s about taking ourselves less seriously, in a smart way.

Anthony’s realization led to a quest during which he observed, studied and interviewed hundreds of people while researching the dynamics of adult playfulness across a wide range of disciplines. He summarized his findings in a wonderfully written book, Playful Intelligence: The Power of Living Lightly in a Serious World.

Of the dozen or more books I read in 2019, this short, insightful work is my most memorable. Filled with compelling stories, fascinating research and helpful advice, author Anthony DeBenedet explores what his extensive research narrowed down as the five core qualities that shape playfulness in adult lives:

• Imagination
• Sociability
• Humor
• Spontaneity
• Wonder

For each of these playfully intelligent qualities, the author explores fascinating research, heartfelt stories (including the inspiring story of Bob Sutherland of Cherry Republic) and practical strategies to help us process the seriousness of our lives with a childlike attitude.

If you’re looking for a book that will stimulate thoughtful reflection and creative ideas to add substance and meaning to your life in the coming year, put Playful Intelligence on your gift list.

Question: How would you assess the playful part of your personality? Do you tend to take yourself too seriously? What would it mean to the quality of your life to live more lightly?

Every hour of every day, there are moments that make us smile and lift our souls, if we can just notice and appreciate them. Playful Intelligence highlights those moments, tells heartfelt stories, and leaves us with practical tools to confront our heavy lives with a childlike heart. Thank you, Anthony, for confronting me with this essential message.