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I’m excited to dive into a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: the power of play. I was lucky to sit down with Dr. Elaine O’Brien, a trailblazer in the field of positive psychology and movement. From her groundbreaking research to her inspiring life journey, Dr. O’Brien has shown us how embracing play can lead to greater joy, resilience, and well-being in our lives.

With a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in Kinesiology specializing in the Psychology of Human Movement from Temple University, Dr. O’Brien is a true pioneer in her field. She has traveled the globe, sharing her expertise in fitness science and applied positive psychology with audiences everywhere from the U.S. to Sweden to Korea. And as the co-author of “The Power of Play: Optimize Your Joy Potential,” Dr. O’Brien has helped countless individuals unlock the transformative power of play in their own lives.

Play is for everyone

One key takeaway from our conversation was the importance of embracing a playful mindset in all aspects of life. Dr. O’Brien emphasized that playfulness isn’t just for children – it’s a vital tool for adults too. By approaching challenges with curiosity, creativity, and humor, we can navigate life’s ups and downs with greater ease and resilience.

We also explored the role of play in building social connections and fostering community. Dr. O’Brien shared inspiring stories of individuals who used their passions and talents to make a difference in the world, showing how play can be a powerful force for positive change.

But perhaps the most powerful lesson from our conversation was the importance of self-compassion and kindness. Dr. O’Brien reminded us that play isn’t about achieving perfection or meeting external expectations – it’s about embracing our true selves and finding joy in the present moment. By letting go of judgment and embracing spontaneity, we can tap into the transformative power of play and live more joyful, fulfilling lives.

Incorporating play in daily life

So, how can you incorporate more play into your own life? Here are a few actionable takeaways from our conversation:

  1. Make time for play: Schedule regular play breaks throughout your day, whether it’s a quick game of tag with your kids or a solo dance party in your living room.
  2. Embrace your inner child: Don’t be afraid to let loose and have fun! Try new activities, explore new hobbies, and don’t worry about looking silly – just enjoy the moment.
  3. Connect with others: Reach out to friends and family members and invite them to join you in playful activities. Whether it’s a game night, a group hike, or a dance class, sharing playful experiences with others can deepen your connections and bring you closer together.
  4. Practice self-compassion: Remember that play is about joy, not perfection. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to make mistakes and try new things. Celebrate your successes and learn from your failures, knowing that each experience brings you one step closer to living your most joyful life.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien’s work reminds us of the incredible power of play to transform our lives. By embracing playfulness, fostering social connections, and practicing self-compassion, we can tap into our true potential and live more joyful, fulfilling lives. So go ahead – let go of judgment, embrace spontaneity, and rediscover the joy of play!

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Play is important for well-being, resilience, and performance
  • Having a playful mindset can help balance serious goals and prevent burnout
  • Character strengths like humor can help facilitate playfulness
  • How to pursue interests across different domains through play
  • The importance of social support from friends and role models

Listen to Elaine’s episode on the power of play

If you found today’s episode enlightening and want to hear more, make sure to subscribe and leave a review on your favorite podcast platform. Be sure to share this episode!


– Learn more about Elaine’s research and work
– Movement and well-being with Dr. John Ratey
– Try a moving meditation on your next ride
– Read The Power of Play

Episode Chapters

  • Athleticism and wellbeing. (0:02)
  • Courage, resilience, and joy in midlife. (6:57)
  • Play and its importance in adult lives, despite common concerns about failure, seriousness, and fun. (11:13)
  • Humor and character strengths. (14:46)
  • Creativity and judgment in positive psychology. (20:39)
  • Overcoming barriers to play and finding joy through spontaneity and self-care. (24:43)
  • Play, positivity, and community building. (28:53)
  • Fun and intentionality in various activities. (35:01)
  • Play as an antidote to seriousness in achievement and personal growth. (38:32)
  • Rest, and performance with a focus on self-complexity and identity. (41:48)


Transcript: Dr. Elaine O’Brien

Sonya Looney 0:02
Elaine, we’re just saying that we’re MAPP sisters. So it’s so exciting to get to sit down with you and have a discussion around things that we love.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 0:09
Oh my gosh, it is such a pleasure and joy to meet you, Sonya. And to share and boy MAPP with something, wasn’t it? What an experience?

Sonya Looney 0:18
Yeah, I’m still in it. I’m about I’m just finishing up my coursework, and then I have my capstone the summer. So yeah, I’m in it. You are

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 0:25
in it, for sure. And I think that one of the most exciting parts of it is besides like, the great level of teachers that we get to learn from, is that the connection continues among the great people like you. So can I ask what you’re writing your capstone about?

Sonya Looney 0:43
Yeah, so my capstone is it’s assessing if perfectionists think about purpose and meaning and their accomplishments, because a lot of us are looking at our accomplishments as an outcome that we need to get to as a way to feel validated in some way as a contingency of self worth. And whenever people consider a purpose in their accomplishment, it takes the pressure off of the outcome, and it helps people find a better sense of accomplishment that isn’t just about evaluation, how

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 1:10
powerful, meaningful and far reaching in terms of athletic prowess and your mindset as an athlete, and just like, motivation, and just being able to savor all that goodness, I love that. I can’t wait to read it.

Sonya Looney 1:28
So I’m excited to write it.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 1:31
Well, I’m here for you if you need anything, um, but again, with your endurance, athleticism and championing. It’s like what what a great contribution this is going to make to the MAPP field, Sports, medicine, science of athletics and movement. So yay.

Sonya Looney 1:48
Thank you. So let’s hear about you. Like, let’s hear about your background. You know, it’s hard as a host, because whenever you come into these interviews, you know a lot about the guests, but the audience doesn’t. So it’s always a dance of not telling somebody story for them, but also asking the right questions. So I’m not sure where you want to start with where the where you’ve come from to get to today and how you want to format that that story. But we’d love to hear your story of how you got to where you are sitting right in front of me.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 2:19
Oh, wow. And again, what a treat. So I guess, from MAPP kind of saved my life, I was one of the first 100 people in the class. And again, the science of flourishing, wellbeing and happiness, right, focusing on what’s strong, instead of what’s wrong in the world, really meant a lot. And I graduated in 2008. And I wrote about positive movement interventions for the greater good. And I know that’s something that you and I share around nutrition and movement. So that’s like, again, another beautiful connection in a field that there’s not a whole lot of people yet that are in like this area of the body and movement, though I think it’s starting to really grow and which is very exciting. But right after MAPP, I had a chance to present at a conference, the Association for Applied sport psychology, with Gloria Park, Dr. Gloria Park, and invited me to present and she got to go to Korea and asked if we would hold the fort. So Dr. Michael sacks, Emeritus Professor of Kinesiology at Temple University was our officiant and our moderator and officiants when you get married, right, but he was our moderator for our panel. And after I spoke, he invited me to apply to Temple University. So I was so blessed to get in, I actually had to take the GRE, I’m an older woman and had the new map. So that was quite a challenge. But I graduated with a degree in kinesiology in 2015, with a specialization in human movements psychology. So that was kind of really exciting, because one of the things I wanted to do is validate around the power positive movement, because previously, I’d been a fitness dance instructor for decades, I had taught all different kinds of fitness, and including water fitness, which I absolutely love. And I’m writing about right now. But I could see that if you invited people into a program made it challenging, but an always safe and effective and encourage them, connected them and left them wanting more, you would get great, like, great following, right, you get great adherence to the program. So what I actually did was I wrote about this program I designed in 1991 to reduce the risk of alcoholism and drug abuse in adults and seniors. And what my idea was to put together a dance fitness program with those, those models that love connection and fun. And just like movement like that is really MC and aerobic. So what happened was we ran the program up until the pandemic. And in my study, we found people who had attended this class, which meant four times a week, at least twice a week or more, F for five years or more. And we had over 60 people, which is pretty, pretty exciting in terms of adherence to like a one hour dance fitness program that again, combines cardiovascular rhythmic movement, dance, strength, training, flexibility, training, balance, training, agility, and again, that social fitness component. So that was like very exciting to be able to find the resource which demonstrated that these people, these women had a very high level of well being. And then Carolyn, Caroline Miller, who was I was coaching with recognize that there was also a legacy of fact that that families of the children were also doing quite well, because we also surveyed the children of the mothers who had participated in the class. So it was kind of a long story. But I started teaching aerobics. Like, very luckily, I was in a master’s program back in the day at the beginning of the aerobics movement. And I auditioned. And I was like the worst person the most out of shape, the most uncoordinated and unfit. And these people, Dennis and Jackie Rogers, who were with the Imperial Society of ballroom dance, they thought I had a nice personality. So that gave me a shot through worked really hard. And again, it was something that dropped out of school, I went back 34 years later, depend where we’re where you are now. And it’s just like, changed my life to be able to be in different dimensions of the fitness industry, including 10 years with the National aerobics championship as a US head judge, Coach and Trainer. So that’s kind of like story around. Yeah. Wow,

Sonya Looney 6:56
I just have goosebumps listening to this. You have so much courage to I’ve heard, I’ve heard a theme of courage throughout your entire story. Like, first you talked about what you talked about going to MAPP, but you talked about signing, you know, going to get a PhD at Temple University and having to take the GRE and there’s all these reasons why you could have said, well, no, I can’t do that, or, or whatever barriers you could put up. And then you talked about how you, you said you were the most out of shape person to go into this aerobics audition, and you did it anyway. And what a beautiful thing to be able to do that over and over to set the example for others and to bring that into the work that you do, because I’m sure that that that thread comes through whenever you’re helping other people face a challenge that maybe they’ve never done before.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 7:48
Well, that’s really time for you to say, um, I think that I feel like if I could do it, anybody could do it. And I think being like a really person who movement didn’t come naturally to like, I had to work really hard at it, it made me a better teacher, because I was able to help people who were like me that, you know, maybe they didn’t grow up doing dance or sports. So it was it was, yeah, it thank you very much. It’s so nice for you to to say that I’m brave, and right back at you.

Sonya Looney 8:20
And you know, something else that I was hearing is that you make it fun, like through through this? Is it the move to love program? Is that what you’re you were because I saw you published a study about that? Yes,

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 8:30
I did, I published a study in the Journal of women. And sorry, women in psychology, and for the American Psychological Association. And that’s what I wrote about this move to love program. And that was prior to the doctoral research, which took it a little bit longer and wider. But again, it was a group a cohort of women, I believe they were aged 50 to like 80s. And they were just remarkable in terms of again, like, were they motivated to participate? Or did you know, what was it but they were just an extraordinary cohort who would run for the arts Race for the Cure, build a library in a building where, you know, so people could have more access to books and education. So it’s just very inspiring. And it’s, it’s really heartwarming to me that even though it broke my heart to have to stop for the pandemic, as we all had to make these shifts that might a core of the women in the group still get together every month for birthday parties and outings and it’s just so exciting. And um, they invited me a couple of times to go I think I’ve opened invitation but it’s just like, it talks about joy that, you know, hear people of a certain age and, you know, just always felt like role models and it’s funny, I’m giving a talk on Wednesday for the university when means Association. And I’m going to talk about one of my favorite students was this woman, mom, Marie. And we called her mom because her daughter was Marie, who was also in the class. And this was at a senior center and Mamrie took my class starting at age 89. Wow. Former Rosie the Riveter. And she was just this force that people were just gravitate toward her. And she stayed with in my program till age 101, like weights and doing chair dancing and stretching, and it’s just so inspiring. And it was funny because she was so much fun. So I knew she would just like she would knit and she would always give people compliments and notice things that people are doing right, and just so loving and warm. And I was talking to my husband about it last night about Mamrie. And he said, Yeah, she’s the best 100 birthday party, and they had martinis. And even though she wasn’t drinking them, she would eat the olives. It was something to be able to just like, cherish. And again, like when you’re catching people doing something, right, it really lifts you up to and it’s that cycle of goodness and positivity upward?

Sonya Looney 11:12
Yeah, this makes me think a lot about instead of focusing on the barriers, focusing on what you can do, because I especially think that, you know, I’ve heard this as a mountain biker, people tell me, I’m too old to do that. And sometimes they’re my age, they’re 40. And I think like, well, you know, there’s a lot of things that we think that we can’t do. And we focus on all the reasons why, you know, it’s too scary. I’m not in shape enough. But like, we don’t spend time considering all the reasons why maybe we can do it, or what we, what we also might benefit from it, other than just the physical piece, like what you were saying is, it’s not just about the movement, it’s about play. It’s about a sense of community and a place to belong, and having your people around you.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 11:54
Yeah, I really, I think that’s such a good point that even in our book, The Power of play, we talk about barriers, but I like how you reframed it. But I think that there’s more valence around like the negative, right, that negativity bias, we kind of get attracted to it. So it’s really brilliant for you to talk about that to just say like, why do we talk about the barriers? And can I just make a correction? So the the journal for the American Psychological Association was the Journal of women in therapy. So okay,

Sonya Looney 12:27
great, thank you. And we can put a link to that in the show notes if people want to check it out.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 12:31
Beautiful, thanks. So.

Sonya Looney 12:33
So in terms of positive movement, you know, play it plays a big part of your book, and play is such an important part of our adult lives that we often forget about because we start taking ourselves too seriously. We’re worried about what other people think we’re worried about failing, we’re worried we’re going to hurt ourselves. So how can people add more joy, fun and play into their lives, if they have habitually for years, you know, had all of these concerns that they’ve been focused on and have forgotten how to have fun?

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 13:00
That that’s the question of the year. I mean, that is such the point that as children we play, and it’s so natural, it’s organic, it’s a way to learn, express to grow and develop right as, as people and as loving and around trust. And then we get to a point where it seems for many of us, that it just goes out the window. So it’s almost like I have a colleague, friend, who is an executive with the AARP they in for older adults, right? She’s a nurse and executive and she was saying how she loves her book, because a lot of times people say quit playing, you know, but like, that’s when all the juices and creativity and other skill sets and strengths can occur. So just I think a couple things are to be more mindful of it. To set a put it on your calendar, right? Just make a date for yourself, to have some fun to do with a friend is always good. And again, to just like kind of reframe around how much are you playing? Have you thought about play, and all the different types of things to do and again, one thing with the book I’m really proud is that we have hundreds of ideas across domains from cleaning your closet to being out in nature, to intimacy with your partner, and you know, having party time and, and just different celebrations. So I think that, again, taking play it seriously maybe like that you can value it and know that, that when you aren’t playful, it can really, like wreak havoc on your emotional life can cause you to be more depressed, it can be more insulin isolated. So I think playfulness, it does really matter. Yeah,

Sonya Looney 14:46
there’s a light there’s a lightness that comes with that. And I love how you have all of these different domains. And you have is it the fun tracker that people can can download the link and it provides it provides different areas so like Having multiple domains for people, because I think a lot of people think, well, it has to just be like I go and actually, you know, to a song or I have to go to a playground, or whatever. But there’s so many different ways that people can have fun and that can play and they can learn to be like, oh, like, I can even feel my body react in a positive way. When I see play. I feel like effervescence in my body.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 15:22
Yeah, I know, we were saying earlier, like about kids and puppies. It’s just like, so it’s really engaging. It’s just like something we can learn from them as well, right, just in terms of that lightness of heart. And I think that the plate play, the fun tracker, power play fun, Tracker is free. And I love that because there is a lot of excerpts from the book that people can try, like you said, across domains. And I just think that it really is surprising that there are so many different ways to get a play mindset. You know, again, just to kind of like, lighten up, like you said, is so valuable.

Sonya Looney 16:02
Yeah, I love the quote, you know, take your work seriously without taking yourself seriously. And I think about that a lot. Like for me, you know, I’m a pro mountain biker, I race a lot. Of course, you know, it’s a highly competitive environment. But I always try and smile at the start line, because that sets the tone for the race for me, instead of being tight and nervous. And, and like looking at everybody like my enemy. It’s like, here we are, like, Let’s go have a fun adventure, like a ton of exploration and fun. Because if you’d like you can choose how you want to show up that day. And you know, another intervention I like to do is like when I see a ridiculous Hill and I see like people are just ants going up the side, I actually laugh at it like laughing at the absurdity of what you’re doing. Instead of letting yourself get bogged down by how hard it’s going to be or how you wish you were further ahead or that type of thing.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 16:52
I love that Sonia. I think that’s the title of your book. Smile at the start line.

Sonya Looney 16:59
That’s a good that is a good title.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 17:00
It’s a great title. I’ll send it to you

Sonya Looney 17:06
getting a free coaching session here. This is amazing.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 17:09
Well, I’m so inspired by even that story. It’s like it’s amazing I the most insurance thing I ever did was the Dublin marathon and I just did a post about this how I kind of like I didn’t want to get injured I’m not really like I did as a to join a team for the Arthritis Foundation and it was just really fun but I kind of power walked and ran and by disabilities I got to see a lot of the sites in Dublin but in the people cheering to take it all in and savoring right the moment which is talking about, but like at a more like more champion like way which is just so awesome. What you do. It’s very, very green.

Sonya Looney 17:51
Thank you. So you know humor in the in the character string. So we let’s talk about character strings for one. Can you tell everybody what that is? And then about the humor and playfulness character strength? Oh,

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 18:03
yes, the character strengths is one of my favorite parts of the science of positive psychology. It’s a foundational piece. And you can like jump in, if you like I know you’re studying right now. But Peterson and Seligman founded this idea of virtues, and character strengths. And they looked across cultures across literature across time, and found ubiquitous qualities that people demonstrated around excellence and goodness. So the character strengths are among six virtues, and 24 character strengths, and one of the groups of virtues is around transcendence. And I feel like it’s it may be all all the strengths are so equal, and they’re so beautiful. And I encourage everybody to take a look at the via Character Strengths inventory. But transcendence, the highest strength in the purple usually compose is humor is among those strengths, along with hope, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, spirituality. And I feel like there’s one other one. But I mean, to me, that’s so exciting. Because I think a lot of times we don’t take humor seriously. It’s not like a priority. But again, I know one thing I wanted to say is like, around play, that there is like, a time in place, right? And it should be like there are like different ways to play that are more like, you know, it’s good to have a lot of joy around you. But our map sister, Catherine Britton, who is in the first map class, who’s just does so much good for our community is also my writing workshop coach, and we were talking about how she, yeah, we’ve been together for four years. It’s been so exciting. She’s an offensive has to Coach and Trainer. And what she was talking about. She’s a former engineer, I believe at IBM, and she had these play times. And she’d be like at work and all sudden, that nerf balls be flying by her head. And she didn’t really appreciate that. So again, it’s just like that might be like a silly example. But it’s just like, there is a place, you know, like, when you want to play and just know, right, I think around the mindfulness, right, and the respect and just like to know that choice really important. But it’s value other people’s feelings as well. And hopefully, you’ll lift them up with some fun.

Sonya Looney 20:39
Yeah, and I guess I should do a solo episode just talking about character strengths, because I think that’d be helpful for everybody. But what you’re talking about is like, the overuse of a strength. And a lot of times people think, Well, I have the strength, I’m just gonna use it all the time. But there’s certain times it might not be appropriate, like if humor is a strength, and then you’re making jokes in places where maybe it’s not time to make a joke, or you’re playing in, in a time where maybe it’s not really appropriate. So yeah, there’s, there’s nuance there of when is it appropriate to be playful? And when do you need to be a little bit more, you know, serious, I guess?

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 21:14
Yeah, I think that’s a great point. And I think that’s a great idea about the character strengths, because there is so much to say, and just the very, very, um, I think it’s so important, I think, to me, it’s life changing. And when we blend like movement, with character strengths, I’m working actually on this program right now called strengths, 2424. strengths. And then using like the strengths, visit our physical strengths to blend those together cool, really, really coach and lead people to greater Well, being physically, socially, emotionally, psychologically, and just like help people lift them up.

Sonya Looney 21:52
So sometimes, sometimes whenever I think about play, like this is just one domain. So I have a two and a four year old, you know, my son loves imaginative play. And it’s amazing. And we have this amazing nanny, and her name is Maria. And she’s so playful. Like, if I had to pick one word to describe her, that would be the word. And sometimes I think to myself, gosh, I wish I could be as creative as her and my imaginative play. And then it made me start thinking about just play in general, and how people might think, Well, I’m just not creative enough to be playful in my life in general. So like, how correlated is creativity with playfulness? And how can people increase their creativity around play?

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 22:31
Yeah, I think, again, it’s around that mindset, to be able to believe that you can do this. And I think, you know, certain things like to create happy habits does take time, it takes mindfulness, it takes energy. And you know, like things like getting out in nature and playing with your kids. I know, you said you were on the seesaw with your kids before, and they’re gorgeous, they’re really adorable. And so I think that, you know, like, that’s one way that you’re like, look at what you are doing well. And then even if you start like, trying or finding different things to do that are artistic, or that are more entertaining, or more, again, physical, you can like or, you know, even making cleaning the house like a fun thing. You know, we have some things in the book about that. So around creativity, I think that it’s like a sweet spot, right? For both right? Because I think play leads to creativity and creativity leads to play.

Sonya Looney 23:29
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, something I was also thinking about. So right now on map, there’s a class for taking called positive humanities. And I think it’s all as like a newer field within positive psychology, but part of it is that we have to, for experiential assignments we had to write, we had to write something, we had to create a visual work of art, like, we had to create our own humanities based, like, pieces of work. And I noticed that for some of us, myself included, the judgment can get in the way, right, like, well, this isn’t any like I’m drawing, but this isn’t any good, or, you know, I’m writing this thing and the self critical voice becomes very loud. And then there’s also we were encouraged to share our work, and then people don’t want to share it because they don’t want other people judging. So judgment is like a huge part, you know, of this barrier to play. And I’d love to hear more about some of these barriers to play. And curiosity is a really great way to overcome that the judgment and this exploration piece coming back to that, you know, we’re talking about exploration earlier with play. So like, how do people how can people overcome this harsh critical judgment when they’re trying to play?

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 24:43
Yeah, I think you have to just do like, be resilient. Say, stop, like, stop that voice in your head and just be kind to yourself to be, you know, like, kind of reflect a little bit and get some perspective about what matters most and again, at the end of the day, what did they say people are gonna say, Oh, I wish I work more. But again, like exploration through play all the different types of play, there’s got to be something that you would like, because there’s definitely something for everyone. And I think that once you can kind of get good in one domain, like there is this overlap that, okay, let me try this. Or maybe that’s not working, but I’ll try something else. So I think having that open mindset, right, that we talked about that, just that where you’re you, when you find the judgey come in, you just gotta say, Stop. I mean, it’s easier said than done. I think finding friends that lift you up. I know, one thing in our book we talk about is the concept of Freud and Freud. And it’s about lifting up another person being like happy for their success. So again, when you invited me to be a guest on your program, I was looking up your accomplishments in your background, I was like, Whoa, I mean, it filled me with joy, right. So that’s an example of writing pride. So one thing is even like to get together with friends that support uplift you, I, over COVID, I was part of like, four mastermind groups. And that really sustained me and lifted me up and propelled me forward in terms of like, when we were having a hard time. So I think that’s part of it, that social connection that we’re talking about all the time now is really powerful. And find, you know, find people that do that, that can that inspire you, right, so like, I think that also like through play and through positivity, like you become attractors, like Mom, Marie was two people, right? That can really just again, as Barbara Fredrickson would say, that spiral up of positivity. And when, when judgments too much, it’s like what you said earlier, so many, it’s like an overuse of the strength. And, you know, that self awareness that mindful awareness takes.

Sonya Looney 26:56
So what are some other barriers that that stop people from playing? And then I want to talk about how we can address those?

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 27:03
Yeah, I was gonna say time is probably one. And if it’s okay, I mean, to me, one of the things that I find is like in our book, we talk about spontaneous activities. These are fun and spontaneous activities that you can, you can do, and it’s great. And I also think, as I said earlier, that planning a date to play, right having a picnic, we’re gonna get together in a couple of weeks. And for our map meetup they go to this beautiful grounds for sculpture. So it’s something that fills you up like to look forward to savoring that experience. And it’s called anticipatory savoring, that you’re savoring something in advance. But I think that around time, that we can also fit in what I like to call micro moments of fitness, or movement or play. So if you’re going in, you’re getting a coffee or something, you can just like, notice something nice on the purse, the barista, you know, you could like their, you know, thank them sincerely and just like to build up today, I took a water fitness class, it’s like something I’m passionate about. And I’m actually writing a book about that not to keep promoting, but it’s just, it’s life changing. And I met a woman and we just started talking. And it was just like, very playful, very fun encounters. So even in your interactions with people, if you’re like, home, and you just feel like you’re put on their favorite song to have a little mini dance party, right? pump out a few like, like crunches or you know, like push ups, you know, anything, even wall push ups, just change the energy or have a laugh. I think one thing we talk about, like with time, too, is like to put like a, like Jar together fun things you might want to try. And then you could pull it out and then think of what things you’d like. So yeah, so time is one barrier. i Sorry, I answered both questions.

Sonya Looney 28:53
That’s great, you know, because with barriers come solutions. And I love that you said it doesn’t have to be this thing that’s on your calendar that’s like, so hard to plan and really complicated. Like it can be spontaneous, it can be fun, taneous, it can be spontaneous. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. But when you shift your energy just just for a few seconds, it changes how you move through the rest of your day because of a spiral that it puts you on a positive spiral.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 29:19
You know, it really doesn’t even what you had said earlier about, you know, smiling at the start line. It’s like I think the smile you send returns to you. And the science is a whole thing is just like with the musculature versus the macula and just you know how it really doesn’t even cross culturally, like not everybody is our big smilers, which is interesting because some of the Scandinavian countries which are report highest on happiness, they don’t tend to be a smiley as some people like in other parts of the world. So it’s like, you know, again, respecting understanding, I think for us culturally to look at what people do that brings them joy is really like something else. Like, so I can, I think that there’s like knowledge kind of can replace some of those like Grumpy feelings to just how good a good play is for you how good movement is for you.

Sonya Looney 30:11
So I want to start just prompt the audience really quick just to take a second to think in your life like how can you play more? And how can you play in a way that’s authentic to you? And that’s not forced. So I’ll leave a second. And then I’d love a lane for you to talk about some of these different domains in the fun tracker. So if the audience you guys are listening, you’re like, Well, I don’t know, like you asked me this question. I don’t know. Elaine’s here to help. And there’s a free tool to help you too.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 30:43
Yeah, it’s based on the powerplay that fun, I think. And I love the question about authentic about what’s a way to play that’s authentic for you. And again, I think that comes across in terms of what we talked about, like appropriateness to play, right, just like, to me, I feel like there’s definitely a lot of all that is around play. And, you know, one thing that I’m really big on is like promoting peace in the world, and well being and just community and individual well being for people. So I just love stories, you know, storytelling. And one of the stories we talked about is the gentleman who raised money for the national health care service, during COVID. And he walked who pledged to walk 100 laps around his garden for its 100th birthday. And I mean, the outpouring of support on that, you know, and again, using your healthy body to help yourself and others is one area that we talk about. And I know Maria Montessori, in her great work around educating children talks about how, you know, we don’t really teach children about peace and cool collaboration and cooperation. And I think that’s really, really important. So other areas in the book, besides you know, that more hopeful area are around cleaning your house. It’s just that I know my, like, I try and smile whenever I’m doing my laundry. It’s just like, to me, like, I catch myself smiling. And I don’t know why, which is very strange, but it’s not something I hate to do. I think, like, it’s just like, it’s kind of peaceful, it’s quite time I’m like, Okay, I’m grateful for my clothes. You know, having gratitude is like a really big thing. Entertainment is another area where you can like, do karaoke. You can have friends over and play some games, you can do like a group sing, or join a choir, or just different things that you could do, building positive community or just through, as you talked about, like with the humanities, which is so cool. And I do want to see what you ate. It’s very, that’s very exciting. I love that, that that’s a newer course after

Sonya Looney 32:52
I mentioned it, because I thought you might be interested in this is kind of an aside, but kind of feel like some of the new courses should be available to previous classes. Because positive psychology like this is a scientific field. So the field advances every single year, there’s new information every single single year, and having access to the newer information, especially, you know, as time goes on, is so helpful, because we’re all trying to be good stewards of this field and to change the world.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 33:24
Yeah, that’s a really good point. I know, we own it, brand wings and the syllabus, which is very exciting, but cool. To know more, you know, family. It is. And it’s a burgeoning field. And it’s very important. And again, I love that idea about, like promoting what’s strong instead of what’s wrong in the world, right? Especially like, the lifespan like help people support people, lift them up, give them the tools. Around the fun tracker, I think we talked about environmental explore. So we talked about plogging, which on our beach, I live that five blocks from the Atlantic, where I am in this weekend, there was a big plogging group who were picking up litter and hiking on the beach. So it was just very exciting because together and beautifies the neighborhood whether you do gardening or community garden, another thing is just like around social components, one one of my favorite chapters is around celebrations. And we talked about like every month like to name a celebration and I think largest st Bridget’s month and she was like a patron saint of Ireland. And even though I’m O’Brien I’m not Irish. I’m Irish by I guess marriage. And she was like the steward for for milkman, and for milkmaids and made beer and just like all these like amazing things. So it’s just like lots of fun to be able to just even read about different things like that. It just I’m like kind of a history buff. So I love that. To learn more Yeah,

Sonya Looney 35:00
something else that I was thinking about when you’re talking about play, especially karaoke is, like, there for some types of play. There almost has to be a tolerance to be okay, looking silly. You know, like most people singing karaoke are not amazing at it. They’re just having fun or, you know, in your play tracker you said like, dance crazy, which I love because I am quote, a terrible dancer, but I’m amazing at Dancing Crazy. So you know, so like being being okay, looking silly. And there’s like a humility and a self confidence that comes with that. So it like, Have you have you come across people who just, they just can’t, they’re just too tight. Like, I can’t do this. I don’t want to feel I don’t want to look bad in front of other people.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 35:40
Yeah, you know, that’s, that is a really good point. And I love that you’re a bad dancer, because it wasn’t terrible. You know, it’s just like, it’s fun to dance crazy. But I think that, you know, looking, it’s situational, right. So maybe it depends on the context a little bit, you know, that where you might let yourself go a little bit more and just be, you know, a little bit more like light hearted and willing to go out there and try something

Sonya Looney 36:06
I’m hearing like, the intentionality is a really big part of this, right? Like, I could be gardening or I could be folding my laundry. But if I’m just doing it without thinking about how this might be fun, and focusing on how this is just this annoying chore that I have to do. Like not having that perspective can be challenging. And you’ve said repeatedly, the social piece of this can be really powerful to help you get out of your own head, or to help bring attention to things that you might not have realized. And I’ll give you guys a quick example. So pulling weeds sounds like a really boring thing. But I actually now love pulling weeds because I was doing it with my kids to start and they will be so intrigued by this huge bruise that will come out of the ground, or like the tool that you get to use. And just seeing my, my, the perspective of my children and pulling weeds made me actually enjoy it even when they’re not there. So yeah, I’m hearing like the intentionality and perspective shift, especially whenever you’re around other people is really powerful whenever you are maybe struggling to find play in something that you’re doing. What

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 37:10
a great gift that was that reminds me of, um, how positive psychology was founded in the garden. Nicky was digging and like flushing the dirt. And he said, you know, we’re playing and she said, Why are you so grumpy? And but isn’t that great that the wonderment around like the roots? I mean, that’s, I think that’s like a really easy solution. If you can get out in nature, like look at the sky. I mean, even if you think about the Eclipse, right? People were just like soon drawn to just like that natural, that natural phenomenon. And it’s, you know, something that brought people together and curiosity, like you mentioned, which is a great thing. It’s yeah, nature shifts things in a big way. In my capstone in 2008, I wrote about that, you know, and I know that a holly Pasmore who is speaking about that, for she had spoken at the International Conference, and it’s just very exciting to see the research around that because that’s something that everybody can enjoy weather. If you’re in a hospital, you have a view, right? The science says that you do better. So yeah, I think that’s a quick fix. If you’re grumpy and or you feel like you’re feeling just like you don’t want to play if you just can think about Ah, right, the science of on and the goodness of on, just taking a pause to notice. It’s just beautiful.

Sonya Looney 38:32
Yeah, and you’re saying how, you know, humor falls under the virtue of transcendence and Oz is self transcendent emotion that helps you get out of just thinking about me and help you connect with something much bigger than yourself. So that’s cool, how that so connected. It

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 38:47
really is, right. And I think that, you know, again, like, I’ve been thinking about this a lot around, like with self care how that’s so important. And I think that, you know, self care and other care are related, like when we can take care of ourselves, then we can serve other people, too. So that and that’s awesome. I mean, it’s like, people are awesome. It’s, it’s pretty amazing. Like, if you I love that about our being a self transcendence trying to write and along with noticing, right that take one moment, and I think complements it will be another thing we wrote I wrote about that and I research about again, when you notice something, it just like elevates everything for you are

Sonya Looney 39:26
so good at giving compliments. I’m always just blown away. Like I want to be half as good as she is giving compliments. It’s actually helped me work on it. So thank you for leading by example with that.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 39:35
Well, thanks. Well, you know, what, in our in our studies, right with the active constructive responding, right, that helps a lot, right, that if you’re giving feedback that is active, like you’re engaged, you’re being a good listener, and then it’s something you know, instead of like dragging the person down, along with Appreciative Inquiry, right, asking questions that promote goodness and help elevate people right to have a Dream and to fulfill their destiny and design and just to live really, on a higher level of well being. I think, I think one thing too with the power play and movement, it does lay down a foundation for when things aren’t going so hot like that helps you to be more resilient when things aren’t going well. And I think that it really matters right to take that time and like to value like, again, like, I can’t even imagine, like, what it would be like to see those ants up the hill and knowing you’re on your way up. I mean, it’s, you know, it’s great. It’s a really exciting thing. I’m curious how you got started, but like, so I would definitely need to research you, well,

Sonya Looney 40:45
we can, we can chat, we can chat Off mic, because I want this to be, I want people to hear more about play. And, you know, something I’ve been thinking about a lot is, you know, a lot of people take them their accomplishments seriously, like accomplishment is the reason I came to map because people have map the Masters in Applied positive psychology, people have a very myopic focus on the thing they’re trying to achieve. Because they think when they get there, they’re going to feel a certain way, and their life’s gonna be a certain way. When really, it’s in the process itself. It’s in the day to day actions, it’s in those micro moments. That’s the process of becoming, it’s not in the accomplishment. And, you know, after reading your book, and after thinking about a lot of things, it was, you know, self reflecting about play, like play is almost an antidote for for the gravity, like the hard gravity of an outcome of an accomplishment. Because now you’re not just so focused on this thing has to be a certain way, it’s not set in stone. It’s like, there’s other things here play adds color to the picture whenever you’re striving for something. And that is that that makes it part of the work. You know, I like to say the work is the reward, but the rest is part of the work. And the play is also part of the work. It’s not separate from the work.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 42:00
That’s fascinating that I know that you’re talking on a different level, you know, again, as being a performance, you know, athlete, endurance athlete. So that’s very exciting to hear that perspective. And I do think that like celebration, Rachel, like, is that what you mean? Or can? Can you just, like, restate that?

Sonya Looney 42:19
Yeah, I think I think what I mean is that, you know, as you have like your plan, right, people make a goal, and they have their plan, they have their all the things that they need to do to get to their goal. A lot of times number one, I’ll make a very easy example. So take sideline, right, it’s like, oh, I want to try running, I’m going to train for this marathon, I have to run, you know, all these different miles, I might feel pressured to run even more miles. Because I lack confidence in my process, I might rest less, because I feel like I need to continue working. And then I burn out, I get injured, whatever have you happens, but also the play piece of like, I think it’s also a mental shift, just like your training. But you’re taking the training so seriously, and you’re taking yourself so seriously that you’re not actually having fun while you’re training. Or you’re not doing other things to support your training, like being being silly, and maybe going out on a wobble board and like falling down and having that be part of balanced training as a part of your training. Or taking time to do something else that is unrelated to your training that is fun. And you think well, it’s unrelated to my training. So I shouldn’t be spending my time doing this or it’s unrelated to my work. Therefore, I shouldn’t be doing this. So you put all this pressure to to work yourself to death and you forget about rest and play, when those are two things that will highly support your performance and make you actually do better whenever you have to do the actual work part of your your goal setting process.

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 43:49
Amen, that you said, Yep, I totally get that. And I think that’s why you know, again, when you aren’t going for, like a physical goal, like to cross train is really valuable. Because, you know, maybe it will, it will impact you positively and again, safety. To me, it’s the main thing, form and function like as a Kinesiology person, I think that really matters. Like to be able to listen to your body, when you are doing like a sport type thing. And again, like I said, cross train is really helpful and helps lift your confidence as well as reduces the risk of injury. And I think that you’re right, like about, like, what you said, it’s just so true that you know, like, if you just get that, like I have to go for this. It’s I mean, I this is maybe a bad example, but when I was writing my doctoral dissertation on movement, I remember I was sitting and I was just felt like I hadn’t moved in days because I was just like so focused and I was like, Wait, what are you doing? You know, like, go out and have a little fun move your body but you know, you just get like, I can’t I think that mindful attention. It’s like, you can’t pay attention to everything. We’ve got to try your hardest to just what see what matters most. To you, you know, in the world, I think it really does. And I think one other thing that inspires people is role modeling. Like, again, like your positive role model in the world. And it’s like, people want to be like you. So there is that, you know, like that feeling that you don’t even know when people are watching you today. In this class, a woman came up to me and said, I know you. And I was like, Oh, my God. It was like she had just had lunch with like, one of my former instructors and dance fitness instructors from years ago. And it’s just like, so nice. So it’s just like, I think, yeah, being more lighthearted. Like being focused, I think the character strengths, you’ve got to do that episode, Sonia. Because I think once people can find their strengths, and really use them, it really will help you to like whatever you want to achieve in your life, make it matter more.

Sonya Looney 45:55
Yeah, yeah. And you’re just giving me all these ideas. So thank you, um, you know, we’re talking about play, you’re talking about cross training to go along with regular training. But I think a lot of people need more self complexity, like they have their identity and their identity fits in a tight little box, there’s not a lot of other boxes where their identity fits. And having play having these different domains of play that you have in your book can add different pieces to somebody’s identity. So instead of somebody that I only write books, or I own, or I only am a cyclist, like they get to engage in the community to do something other than that, so that they can have more pieces to who they are. And that’s going to help take the pressure off of them whenever they’re in that critical domain. I

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 46:40
love that piece too. I mean, again, like if we look at people and we ask them to write down what what roles do you have like that, that is exactly a reminder of that. And to be able to play across domains whether it’s at home or you know, again, outside or just like doing different things it just if something goes away, at least you have something else to draw back on. And and again, that play and movement I think they lay a foundation for resilience when things aren’t so hard. And again, if you can do it across domains, how great would that be?

Sonya Looney 47:11
Yeah, well balling I can’t believe we’re already out of time. I could talk to you all day about this. And I want to hear more about your PhD work that you did and positive movement and it sounds like you’ve really spent a lot of time with with older people and helping them and that’s fascinating to me, because I want to be like, like mom, like mom was Renee mom. I’m Marie Mamrie. I want to be like her. So thank you. So where can people find your book and find more information about you and the work you’re doing? Thank

Dr. Elaine O’Brien 47:40
you, Sonia. So probably on It’s the power of play optimize your joy potential, Elaine O’Brien and Andrew Seidel. So if you go to the powerplay O’Brien, you’ll find it. And then my website is Elaine O’Brien. So, if anybody wants to call me that, that’s fine, too. Like and I’m just so happy and honored to get to meet you and to be with you and thank you and, and your listeners, Linda joy.

Sonya Looney 48:10
Thanks so much.

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