I recently bought my grandson a ball. It was a biggish one – about a foot and a half in diameter – and bouncy as all get out. It’s blue with baseball stitching and he loves it. He carries it everywhere, though it almost entirely obscures him, throws it on hard surfaces and giggles when it bounces away, and rolls it in every direction. It has brought a great deal of pleasure for about the cost of a cup of coffee.
I chanced to pick it up this morning. Holding it stationary felt wrong so I bounced it one. Then I did it again. I dribbled it for a minute before bouncing it off a nearby door for a quick game of catch with myself. As I grabbed it and held it up to my chest, I wondered: what is it about a ball?
How is it that such a simple thing can bring such pleasure? Playing with it for a few moments certainly made me smile. It’s not like they’re new. There are records of balls dating back centuries (to at least 1205 AD).
You can do a lot of things with a ball and there are any number of games that can be played with it. I’m very fond of the soccer variant. But you don’t need to do anything fancy to have it give pleasure. My morning bouncing is proof of that.
Do we like them because balls are easy and thus it’s easy to gain a sense of satisfaction? Who among us hasn’t competed with ourselves to see how many times we can consecutively bounce or toss-and-catch one of these round bringers of joy?
Do we like them because using them requires some concentration and therefore the active brain shuts down for a bit, letting us zone out in mindfulness for a few meaningful moments?
Is it the shape? Is there something special about a sphere? Do circular shapes bring joy, make us happy? There are a lot of circles in the world; the use of them features prominently throughout history. You can find them in cave paintings. They’re seen as iconic in many religions and philosophies. Hierocles used circles to discuss the roles one has in one’s life and how to live well and care for ourselves and others.
One theory I came across postulates that humans associate shapes with emotions; we associate circles with happiness. Circles are also thought to symbolize completion, wholeness, and harmony, feelings most of us are are striving to capture. Circles also suggest infiniteness and endurance.
For me, there was an element of returning to childhood and simpler times as I played with the ball. I thought, as I held it up to my chest, that we don’t spend – that I don’t spend – enough time doing things simply for the fun of it. Not for some desired end result, not to prove capabilities or skills, just for pleasure. We leave many of those pastimes behind as we age. Now that I’ve revisited random bouncing, I’ve decided that’s a shame.
In the end, I don’t suppose the “why” matters. It brings joy, and isn’t that what’s important?