From the time we are very small children, we are taught to avoid imagination, work hard, get serious, learn, and “act their age.” Even dix year olds spend about eight hours in school! That’s a lot of time growing your brain. That takes away from growing your heart and gut/intuition. That can keep us from being fully functional, balanced adults.
If you are:
- keyed up
- stressed out
- feeling uninspired
- a perfectionist
- experiencing interpersonal issues
maybe you need to play. Play? Adults? Yes, adults can play.
“Play” means to do something for amusement or without any purpose at all. Most kids do that effortlessly. Remember riding your bike all day, playing in the swimming pool, or jumping rope all day long? You never thought about being tired, that paper you had to write next week, or anything except being right there in that moment. By the time we are pre-teens, most of us have learned to feel bad about doing something without a purpose. We learn to always do our best. When we do things like play sports, we go at it hard and with a competitive attitude. When we create art, it’s with a judgmental eye. Even exercise isn’t “good” if we didn’t hit a goal or make ourselves sore. So even our leisure activities are work!
Making time for play is beneficial for people of all ages. It makes life more fun. It can be relaxing as well as stimulating. Play can boost your creativity, imagination, problem-solving skills, relationships, and enhance mood. Play is especially good for people who have experienced trauma as it helps to reorganize the brain. George Bernard Shaw even said, “We don’t stop playing because we’ve grown old. We grow old when we stop playing.”
What types of things can you do to bring play into your life?
- Laugh. Lighten up. Humor heals. It bonds. If you are tempted to get angry, see if there is a funny side to the situation.
- Flirt. An effective flirt is creative. It takes some brain power to use your body language and words in a way that is playfully sexy. Flirting can create new relationships and keep old ones fresh.
- If you are in a position of authority at your workplace, you can incorporate a “recess” or some sort of recreation break. Perhaps you can get a dart board, foos ball table, or ping pong table for short breaks. Productivity increases where creativity breaks are allowed. If this can’t be done, perhaps bringing Uno, playing cards, Legos, or board games into the lunchroom can help with bonding and a sense of play.
- Tell jokes. It will keep your heart and that of others light. Just be sure to keep it clean and harmless.
- Play with your pets. Dogs like playing frisbee or to chase a ball. Cats like playing with laser pointers. If you do it with a spirit of fun, rather than just to exercise your animal, it’s fun for you too.
- Keep a toy box. Fill it with solitary play toys like dolls, coloring books, army men, art supplies, Play-doh, or puppets. Make a date to play with them regularly.
- Come up with a word game. Play it with one or more people. If you are good at remembering song lyrics, look for opportunities to slip in song lyrics into conversation naturally. If you are good at movie lines, see who can slip the most movie lines into conversation while still making sense. It could be famous one liners or anything like that.
- Let your kids take the lead. Ask them what they want to do and then follow their lead. Little kids usually don’t have any problem being entertained with the smallest things like catching butterflies, building sand castles, playing music, or watching the river roll by.
- You know how in musicals people just burst out in song? Do that! If the spirit moves you, sing!
- When a song lifts your heart and makes you feel like dancing, dance. Too often we stop ourselves from doing what our spirit wants to express because we want to be appropriate and grown up. Don’t stifle your soul!
- You could join a dance, sports, or exercise class IF it’s not competitive. Remember the whole point is fun, not winning, getting in shape or learning something. Those are great secondary benefits, but if it’s the primary motivation, it’s no longer play.
- Learn a magic trick or two. Show people. Laugh and mystify your friends.
Life is not just about “he who dies with the most toys wins.” It’s not about striving and dying. If you are feeling stagnant, anxious, depressed or stuck, it’s probably time to do more playing. Balance is key. Most of us know how to do. Not everyone knows how to not do or to do that well. Playing can help with that. It’s healthy. Give yourself permission to play. Everybody needs to play.