Over the past couple of weeks, I have been talking to my parenting groups about the importance of play in the lives of their children. Learning through play has long been recognized as a critical aspect of childhood and child development. I began to think about the role of play in the life of adults. How important is it? Many of us have forgotten how to play. Those adults who engage in excessive amounts of play are often labeled “childish” or “immature.”
What happens to play in our lives?
We all come into the world as natural players. We don’t need any instruction. We find what we like to do and just do it. At some point as we get older, we are made to feel guilty for playing. We strive to be productive and if an activity doesn’t teach us a skill or make us money, we feel that we shouldn’t be doing it. Sometimes the demands of everyday life rob us of the ability to play. The truth is that we don’t need to play all the time to get the benefits of play, but play is actually an important activity regardless of age.
Science is teaching us that play is as necessary to our personal health and well-being as sleep. They are learning that play is a profound biological process that sculpts the brain and makes us smarter and more adaptable. Like sleep, play seems to sustain physical and social development. Studies show that a life lived without play is at increased risk for occurrence of stress related disease, mental health issues, addiction and interpersonal violence.
Play is vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships. It generates optimism, seeks novelty, makes perseverance fun, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community. Research indicates that without play, it is difficult to give your best at work and at home. A playful person is more nimble, better able to enter the competitive scene, and more easily responsive to change.
So what is play exactly?
Play is something that is done for its own sake. It’s fun. It’s voluntary. It’s stuff that you don’t need to do. Play comes from your inner nature, so it is unique to every person. Generally it focuses on actual experiences, not outcomes. When we are fully engaged, it provides freedom from time and a diminished sense of self-consciousness. Play is called recreation because it makes us new again. It is a gateway to vitality!
How can you put more play into your life?
- Remember what you enjoyed as a child. Connect to the feeling of joy, and identify what you could do in your current life to recreate that sense of playfulness.
- Give yourself permission to be playful. Allow for spontaneity. Be open to new and adventurous activities.
- Be active. Physical movement is one of the quickest ways to jumpstart play.
- Expose yourself to play. Appreciate the opportunities for play around you. Children and pets are natural play magnets.
- Take time to play. Surround yourself with people that appreciate your type of play.
- Let go of fear. Fear and play do not go together. Find safe spaces to play, and be able to indulge in the freedom to play.
Remember, the most significant aspect of play is that it allows us to experience joy and connect with the BEST in ourselves and in others.