Play and the Core of Happiness

Jennifer Giambrone’s blog Nostalgia: It’s Good For You! told us about the importance of preserving memories. Our good memories remind us that we have value, that we are happy (or, at least, can be), and that life does in fact have meaning. In Once Upon a Time, I tried to convey much the same thing—that the time we spend playing as children can be crucial to our later ability to manage aspects of our adulthood successfully. A core of happiness forms in each of us during our early years and, quite unknowingly, becomes a pillar upon which we can later lean and from which we can draw considerable strength when the road gets a little rocky.

We all need to recognize this inner power that each of us possesses. Though we can easily lose sight of it during trying times, we must not forget to consult it often. Fond memories, such as our recollections of good times playing, can, more often than not, soothe us, make us smile, and help us recover our bearings. Our “good memory” reserve helps keep us happy and healthy throughout our lives. It is important, then, to help create good memories in those we love and care for. The Strong has positioned itself to do just that. Elsewhere, the importance of play is sometimes downplayed or taken for granted. Not here.

Reflecting upon the fond memories that my favorite sport, baseball, can create quickly reveals that the benefits of the game—which are completely ignored by many and largely under-appreciated by most—can help refresh our outlook; all we have to do is think about it. Baseball restores my optimism and faith in humanity. Once, I saw a baseball poster that said simply, “It Happens Every Spring.” Immediately, my winter got shorter and my spirits sailed.

Chroniclers of the game—my contemporary favorite is Bob Costas—remind us in vivid terms just how much the game mirrors and teaches us about life. Among the many poignant lines spoken by Costas at the 1995 funeral of “The Mick” were these: “Mickey Mantle was too humble and honest to believe that the whole truth about him could be found on a Wheaties box or a baseball card. But the emotional truths about childhood have a power that transcends objective fact. They stay with us through all the years, withstanding the ambivalence that so often accompanies the experience of adults.” Costas also understands that without sufficient childhood play, these truths would be so altered as to be nearly or completely unrecognizable—and probably unhelpful. The magic of play—irrespective of its tangible, educational component—creates in each one of us a happy core that simply cannot be modified by later circumstances or experiences.

This emotional center is immediately stimulated and resurrected—this time involuntarily—upon entering The Strong. This unique quality makes The Strong as essential as the National Baseball Hall of Fame to all players. Both hold the spirit essential to preserving our national psyche and our collective health. Speaking at the 150th anniversary of Yale’s art gallery in 1982, the late University President and Commissioner of Baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti, said, “It is no small thing but finally sublime to outwit time and make a moment that can last forever. And, it is no small thing to cherish those glimpses of our wholeness, and preserve those moments in a place which is made to care for them.”

The more I read those lines, the more I realize that The Strong is just such a place. Where else can family members of all generations experience the fun of play, the history of play, the lessons of play, and the memories of play—while creating new memories—under one roof? Giamatti’s later passion, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, has become the destination for all things baseball. Anyone with a serious interest in the sport must go there at least once to experience the legacy of the game that is still (and, as far as I’m concerned, always will be) considered the national pastime. The Strong has become a similar destination. The people of this nation will realize someday soon that they simply cannot understand the complete story of play or experience its fullness without coming here. In so doing, they will also come to realize that their visit will create fond memories that last a lifetime.