Here’s a theory. What if play is an important part of seeing the meanings in life? We surely don’t want to take the fun out of fun, by over-examining it. But imagination, movement, the exercise of skills and talents – they are not just used for practical goals. All through the human experience we see evidence that people took time for play and pleasure, even when times were tough. Some might look at the historical record and suggest that the tougher the times got, the more important pleasure and play became.

The Practicality of Pleasure

Many of us were brought up by “The Greatest Generation.” We saw firsthand among our parents – who had come of age during the Great Depression and who had won World War II – that laughter and socializing, golf and bridge club, dining and dancing were important enough to make time for in life. Clearly these people were no loafers. What led them to conclude that pleasure is so important?

Why it Matters

We have a vested interest in knowing the answer, because the fact is, Hilton Head Island is kind of a “company town” when it comes to pleasure. The environment, the climate, and the atmosphere conspire to make Hilton Head Island a place where people come to enjoy themselves. Many millions have come as visitors. Many thousands have been fortunate to make the island their home. What almost all have in common is that they came here to have a good time. Even the businesses and industries that grew here on America’s favorite vacation island owe their success to the attraction that magnetized people in the first place, the pleasure of being here.

Among The Shops at Sea Pines Center, we are especially grateful for this pleasure principle, because it is obvious that the founding planners had more than merchandise in mind. The care and consideration that went into the siting and design of the Center itself demonstrates this. Placed halfway from Harbour Town to South Beach, right in the middle of the Miracle Mile of Sea Pines, it was clear from the first that the Center was about pleasure and connection as well as shopping.

Another reason to give pleasure a think is because work is so undeniably vital, that pleasure might appear to be optional by comparison. And so, striking a balance between work and play calls for knowing why each is important. This perspective calls for some understanding of what we get out of them, and the role they play in our lives.

The Less Obvious Answer

The skills of work are specific and clear, easy to observe and define. Their purpose is equally clear. We get nowhere without work. We owe our basic survival to the fruits of our labors – food, shelter, education, the wherewithal to provide for families. Further, work defines many of us – possibly most of us – at least to a great extent. “She’s a doctor.” “He’s a teacher.” “She’s an architect.” “He’s a roofer.” “She raised four kids through college.” Our occupations are a kind of shorthand for our identities. Fair? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In some cities, it is the first thing you hear about someone you meet. You get to decide for yourself whether that description was adequate only after knowing that person a bit.

Where do we get the patience to develop those skills of work? Where do we recharge our energies for doing it? Where do we get the point of view that we base our choice on in the first place? The answer, for most of us, is play. Maybe it deserves a better name. Maybe play should be considered more seriously, at least now and then. Because you don’t have to think too hard to see that without it, without some measure of downtime, free thought, action primarily based on enjoyment, we wouldn’t be able to locate or sustain the work we do. That productive action that defines us is to some extent made possible by times and actions that are not as easy to link to outcomes.

Where Work Finds its Meaning

How can we see this? All through history people have left us evidence of the importance they placed on pleasure. Researching a Sea Pines Center journal post on the Forest Preserve and its Sea Pines Shell Circle recently, we were reminded that this ancient evidence of what was on people’s minds is usually from our social, religious, or cultural endeavors. We don’t see ancient stores or workshops. Factories are a relatively recent phenomenon, and those not still in service are often re-purposed. More often through the chapters of human history we see theaters and arenas and places of worship. Places where people gathered for thought or connection or reflection – or pleasure.

And this is not just in the record of buildings. The literature and art handed down to us seems weighted toward the subjective. We don’t know of any blueprints for a catapult or a castle, or even elevations for an aqueduct, and the blueprints of cathedrals are mainly studies done after construction, to analyze rather than to direct.

The art that’s preserved for us to learn from is overwhelmingly an art of perspective, even pleasure, more than practical application.

In the presence of pleasure, or art, or thought, or worship, or consultation, or connection – is this where we integrate those practical experiences, where we find purpose for those skills and talents, where work finds its meaning?

What Makes Us Human

Our ability to place meaning on objective facts – and even further, to agree on beliefs that cannot be proven, or on visions of what hasn’t happened yet – is said to be a defining characteristic of being human.

In a well-read recent book titled, Sapiens, an Oxford history scholar proposes that this – not our thumbs, not our social skills, not our community organization – but rather the ability to share beliefs and perspectives – made everything from agriculture to commerce to science possible.

And isn’t that perspective we get from our time off, from our time away, from our times of pleasure? Isn’t this where we put it all together, where we find meaning in, and lessons from, the things we encountered in our work?

Nothing provable about this, of course. But the evidence we see from the people who came before us is persuasive. One of those bits of evidence is what the Sea Pines founders placed right here, The Shops at Sea Pines Center.