Theresa O’Connor

The Virtue of Playfulness

When interacting with others, the style of your words, claims, and mannerisms communicate to the other(s) your sense of life. The sense of life favored by Objectivism is one that celebrates the joy of living, that embraces life and holds it dear. I have found that, when talking to other people, especially with the people I value as friends and loved ones, I try to be appropriately playful.

Playfulness, in thought, word, and action, is to bring a certain lightness to bear on a situation, to seek the humor that may be already present, or may be properly introduced. It is simultaneously a demonstration that you are enjoying the interaction, and a way to enjoy the interaction in it’s own right.

In different situations, higher or lower levels of playfulness are appropriate. This is where the related virtue of tact becomes important. (This is analagous to the fact that the level of focus you bring to different situations varies with the type of situation. See Dr. Branden’s The Art of Living Consciously.) For instance, when spending time with a significant other, it is often appropriate and enjoyable to be very playful, or even downright silly; this indicates your feelings for them and your happiness in being with them, the sheer exuberance that you feel when you’re with them. When confronted with tragedy, playfulness is and should be at a minimum.

It’s important to remember that the presence of playfulness does not imply a corresponding lack of seriousness; one can be very serious about something while acting playfully. This is how I try to approach schoolwork. The understanding is that the work needs to be done, but that this does not preclude having fun doing it. Why, given that I love my chosen field, the enjoyment of working in it a large part of the reason I’m here anyway.

When talking to and spending time with friends, we often make fun of each other. This is a sign of affection; a way of showing that you understand each other. To someone outside of the context of in-jokes and such that builds up as a friendship ages, this behavior can be perplexing. Nevertheless, we should not dismiss such behavior as irrational, for it need not be. It is one way in which the bonds of friendship become stronger.

Innuendo can be a type of playfulness, a kind normally reserved for those that one finds attractive. Acting coyly and/or teasingly is a similar manifestation of playfulness in the context of romance.

Playfulness is often looked down upon, as being childish. I don’t know about your childhood, but I consider this aspect of childhood to be one of the things worth keeping as an adult. Dr. Branden touches upon this, in this quote:

The natural inclination of a child is to take pleasure in the use of the mind no less than of the body. The child’s primary business is learning. It is also the primary entertainment. To retain that orientation into adulthood, so that consciousness is not a burden but a joy, is the mark of the successfully developed human being.1

This playful behavior communicates the benevolent outlook on life to other people; it shows them that you’re enjoying yourself and their company. It is the manefestation of your knowledge that the world is a place where your goals are tenable and your happiness is possible.

Playfulness is consistent and congruent with the major Objectivist virtues. I do not consider it to be a major virtue, but it is an immensely satisfying one.

A lot of people get hung up on little details in Objectivism, and in doing so, forget to enjoy themselves. My advice is to stop nitpicking and to start loving life and the people you live it with. Lighten up and have fun, the world is a great place. :)


  1. I forget what this is from; I have it in a file that fortune(6) reads on login. Probably Six Pillars.