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The Levity Institute in the Washington Post

by levity on April 20, 2012

On April 14, the Washington-based organization SPACIOUS, hosted a “Be/Bring Your Own Kid Adult Recess,” event in Washington’s Meridian Hill Park. The pie throwing party was the highlight, allowing stressed out Washingtonians to play.

The group hopes to trick out decommissioned ice cream trucks and deploy them to cruise the city offering services such as on-the-spot hairdressing, chefs serving up cookies and milk or “recess teams” that will bring line-dancing flash mobs to downtown sidewalks. They’d be called Spacious mobiles, and you’d able to follow their routes on Twitter.

“This city is so obsessed with business and politics — you have to work 50 hours a week and then go to all the right happy hours — that we don’t prioritize recess and fun,” said Joey Katona, 23, the group’s co-founder.

Spacious and similar projects across the country constitute what stress experts call the “Play Movement,” an informal alliance of academics, therapists and human resources experts that is spreading the word about the role of playfulness in maintaining mental and physical health.

In the past seven months, there have been four national conferences on the value of play; a fifth, “The Importance of Being Playful,” will be hosted by the Minerva Foundation at the end of May at the University of California at Berkeley. A forthcoming documentary —“Seriously! The Future Depends on Play,” directed and produced by Bay Area “play consultant” Gwen Gordon — aims to illustrate how play restores health in communities around the world.

“We stop playing at our peril,” said Gordon, who’s also a member of theAssociation for the Study of Play, a membership organization for academics who study the salutary effects of recreation. “We think we are a playful culture, but we are really overworked. Americans on average have 13 paid vacation days per year, and most people don’t even take them. Other countries have 40. We take our weekends to play hard, but that’s really to let off steam from our play-deprived lives and just get enough energy to get back into the ring.”

The Levity Institute, based in South Portland, Maine, aims to restore “lightheartedness” to society. It advises adults to dance in grocery stores, rock out in their cars or just blow bubbles for the fun of it, said Katie West, a former life coach who runs the nonprofit.

“Certainly stress levels are very high,” said David Ballard, who directs theAmerican Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. The APA’s 2012 Workplace Survey found that low salaries were the top workplace source of stress along with lack of opportunity for advancement and heavy workloads.

“People are working longer hours and also don’t feel valued, which gets tied to physical and mental health and motivation — so a conga line could be a great way to get people outside, get them moving and connect humor and happiness to work, and that’s important,” he said.

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