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Book Review: Playful Intelligence

Why have we forgotten how to play as adults? It seems that once we have the responsibilities of work and family, our time is spent learning how to deal with the pressures of life, and play goes by the wayside. In Playful Intelligence: The Power of Living Lightly in a Serious World , Dr. Anthony DeBenedet encourages us to rediscover play as adults, noting that “children live in the constant state of play, whereas adults live in a constant state of trying to keep up.”

Playful Intelligence is not about taking life less seriously and negating our responsibilities. It is about taking ourselves less seriously and discovering ways to enjoy our lives, even during times of pressure. DeBenedet takes readers through playfulness by identifying five key qualities: imagination, sociability, humor, spontaneity, and wonder. He reminds the reader that all of us have these capabilities; we have forgotten how to use them.

The first one, imagination, is not about escaping into fantasyland. It is about learning how to reframe our experiences to not be so negative. We can learn how to use our minds to view things a different way. Since we cannot run away from our challenges, there is value in learning how to view them differently. That is how we discover that a new perspective often brings new opportunities. Our imagination can also help us get out of any ruts we might be in where we try to do things the same way and expect different results.

The second concept, sociability, is not about spending more time on Facebook. It is about how we relate to people with humbleness and openness rather than being quick to judge based on assumptions. There is a reframing component here, too, in how we can better relate to others. For example, DeBenedet points out there is a difference between giving suggestions (an openness to be wrong) and giving opinions (a need to be right) in our communications with others. That keeps us receptive to the differences among us and is a new approach for how we connect.

You do not have to be a comedian to have the next quality of humor, and joking all the time or putting other people down in order to get a laugh is not the humor he speaks of. It means having a light-hearted approach to life and realizing that humor is very much a part of being playful. It can help people relate to each other. We want to share lighthearted information that makes us smile with other people because it can make them feel better, too. When done right, t can be such an easy way for us to connect, especially with people unlike us, and once cultivated, can be especially helpful during tough times.

Spontaneity seems to be a tough quality to find as adults. We do not allow it when we work so hard to control our schedules and our circumstances. However, once we realize that it is not possible to control everything and we become more open to change, life is less stressful and we are naturally more playful.

The final element is wonder, where we begin to notice the small things again. Wonder is not about life changing moments, it is about being in the present moment and aware of what is happening now rather than constantly moving forward to the next thing. It encourages us to not always seek to act and instead just be present. When we are constantly on-the-go, we miss out.

Although Playful Intelligence is categorized on the back cover as Self-Help / Social Science, it is written for the academic more so than the person seeking simple self-help advice. The social science aspect is clear because DeBenedet includes numerous stories and research findings to flush out each of the five qualities. DeBenedet does offer suggestions at the end of each chapter for how to enhance these qualities in our lives, but application is not the focus. Playful Intelligence will appeal to people who are interested in the supporting research for an idea and not just a practical “how-to”. The book does meet the goal of explaining why Playful Intelligence benefits us and those around us and the value of play in what can be a too-serious world.

Playful Intelligence

Santa Monica Press LLC, May 2018

Paperback, 264 pages

Book Review: Playful Intelligence

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Tina Arnoldi

Tina Arnoldi is a licensed professional counselor with a practice in Charleston South Carolina who primarily treats depression and anxiety. As a former technology director, she is especially interested in the impact of the internet on mental health. Read her Psych Central book reviews and learn about her practice at

APA Reference
Arnoldi, T. (2018). Book Review: Playful Intelligence. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Sep 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 6 Sep 2018
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