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Bernard L. De Koven

Manifest Joy

Joy is the spirit made manifest

New Games slideshow
Source: New Games slideshow

So, how do you know when someone is being or feeling playful? Hmmm?

When J. Nina Lieberman was doing the research that led to her dissertation on Playfulness: Its Relationship to Imagination and Creativity, she arrived at a concept she called "Manifest joy." Joy made manifest. Made visible. Audible. Undeniably present.

I read and re-read her book, and as remarkable as much of her findings proved to be, nothing, for me, was more remarkable than those two words: manifest joy. Except, perhaps, for two more, which I mention later in this article.

They are solid insights. They are observable, researchable, and they touch something deeper than all that. They substantiate something profoundly spiritual. Something in life that validates living itself. They are poetic, is what they are. In a research paper.

We see joy manifest in those we love. I think, in many ways, it is why we love them.

The majority of joy-manifesters seem to be children and other furry beings. For adults, it takes a village.

Like the picture at the beginning of this post. From a New Games event, of course. Or this one, also from a New Games event:

New Games slideshow
Source: New Games slideshow

The look on that young woman's face right after she has lost a game of tug-of-war is mirrored in almost everyone's face. And though we can't see the child's face, I like to think that she sees in it her joy made manifest.

It is somewhat more difficult for us to find these moments of manifest joy in our adult world. We find it some times in sports, but rarely, and only by the winners. More often, perhaps, among the spectators. But again, only by some, and only when their side has scored. We see it much more often in informal sports, pick-up games, block parties, picnics, outdoor concerts, and the like. But even then, in retrospect, at least, there's something extraordinary about these events, something wonderfully, and unfortunately unusual.

Bubbling Effervescence

The term "manifest joy" got me dreaming - rethinking my many encounters with communities of players in terms of what I actually experience about their behavior that has kept me going all these many years.

There was another term that also got me dreaming. She used it to help us understand manifest joy specifically in connection to playfulness.

She writes:

Perhaps a good way to start is to concretize the individual at the various age levels. We have the kindergartner who skips, hops, and jumps, who is likely to smile more readily, so glint-in-the-eye behavior, move easily among his or her peers, and be more imaginative in labeling his or her play products. The playful high school student seems to be two different types: One is physically alert, enthusiastic, and intellectually curious; the other is physically mobile, spontaneously joyful, humorous, group-oriented, and friendly...

If we were faced with stating the results in a nutshell, we would be justified in saying that what has been labeled “bubbling effervescence” in the adolescent is the carryover from the kindergartener’s all-pervasive playfulness.

"Bubbling effervescence." Yes, yes, joy manifest, playfulness incarnate.

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About the Author

Bernard De Koven is the author of The Well-Played Game. He writes on theories of fun and playfulness and how they affect personal, interpersonal, community and institutional health.