When we’re kids, we can’t wait to grow up. We want more freedom. We want to do what grown-ups do. As kids, we see our lives revolving around school, friends and fun activities and don’t understand how good we have it. When we grow up, work often takes the place of school, friends take a back seat to family obligations and fun activities are often more like special events.
No Time for Play
As adults, we feel we always need to be responsible and productive and rarely make time for playful activities. We create conscious or unconscious boundaries around what is acceptable and unacceptable adult behavior. We view visiting the zoo or going to a carnival as something fun for the children to do and we just play the role of chaperone. We don’t think about actually having fun ourselves.
Children play spontaneously. They can create playful activities anytime, anywhere. As adults, we can lose this ability or bury it deep inside. At first, it may take a bit of time and creativity to think of playful activities and may need to be scheduled on the calendar. In time, playing may become more spontaneous.
Although it’s often associated with games, the idea of play is much broader. Playing can be any fun, joyful activity where you forget about time. Playing can be a solo event, like riding a bike along the beach or engaging in a hobby. Or, it can involve others, like playing a sport or throwing a ball for your dog.
Benefits of Play
Playing offers an abundance of emotional and physical benefits. The more play, the more significant the benefits. Of course, it stands to reason that play involving movement (such as tennis) has more physical benefits than sedentary play (such as chess).
Some of the mental health benefits of playing include:
Building a fun-loving attitude
Improving cognitive function
Strengthening social bonds
Some of the physical health benefits of physical play include:
Reducing the risk of chronic disease
Better cardiovascular health
Categories of Play
Stuart Brown, MD, has been studying neuroscience, biology, psychology and social science as it relates to play. In his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, he outlines five categories of playing.
This type of play helps us with cognitive, emotional, and physical mastery and emotional regulation.
Tug of war
Ritual play involves set rules. It brings a group of people together to create, strategize and design for a common purpose or goal.
This form of play involves fantasy, creativity and imagination.
Body play involves putting our bodies in positions and activities that work against gravity.
Riding roller coasters
This category of play involves manipulating objects and building.
Building with Legos
Having snowball fights
Playing at Work
More and more workplaces recognize the link between productivity and a fun work environment. Other benefits to the company and the employees include higher job satisfaction, fewer ”sick” days and less turnover.
Some workplaces encourage play by offering “recess-type” breaks throughout the day with basketball hoops and yoga classes. Company picnics, parties and other group events are other ways companies promote a playful work environment.
For people with mundane jobs, engaging in moments of play can help relieve boredom and uplift their mood. But even if a workplace doesn't specifically encourage play, there are many ways to sneak in playful moments throughout the day—especially during breaks. Sharing a funny story or playing a game with co-workers can be the highlight of the workday.
By permitting yourself to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, you can reap the benefits throughout your life.
As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”