Daily habits can contribute to increased levels of happiness and contentment. Several practices have been proven to decrease levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, we can increase the functionality of our immune systems, and our feelings of well being. Just as we pick up our toothbrush every day, we can begin to create new habits that influence the way we feel.
Life is far too serious a matter to take too seriously. Jon Kabat-Zinn
What happens to play when we are adults? We watch as our children run, jump, explore, and pretend. They get lost in their imaginations and lose sight of their inhibitions. Then, somewhere along the years, we receive the message that we need to start acting our age. Unfortunately, when we stop making time for play, we become more stressed, and our feelings of happiness and well-being diminish.
The opposite of play is not work… it is depression. Stuart Brown
Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, explores ten research driven “guideposts” we can cultivate to live more fully. “Cultivating Play and Rest” is the seventh guidepost. In her blog, Brown describes her journey in learning to incorporate the practice of play into her own life:
In our culture our TO-DO lists are so extensive that we feel like slackers if we are not working to check off tasks every single minute of the day and night. Even sleep has started to feel self-indulgent. Stuart Brown identifies losing track of time as an important property of play. Understanding this property of play has taught me a lot about myself. For me, nesting is play. Piddling around my house is play. Editing photos is play…
Play is essential to creating balance in our modern life. Sometimes we treat ourselves like machines, as we work longer and harder hours to meet the demands of an ever-increasing workload and responsibilities. The demands continue to pile on, in spite of our efforts, until we feel overwhelmed and burned-out. This endless treadmill of tasks and demands can affect health and relationships as it can lead to depression, anxiety, or anger.
When we allow ourselves time for rest and play, we begin to feel human again. “Because work is where we spend much of our time, it is especially important for us to play during work. Without some recreation, our work suffers. Success at work does not depend on the amount of time you work. It depends upon the quality of your work. And the quality of your work is highly dependent on your well-being.” (Gina Kemp, M.A., Melinda Smith, M.A., Bernie DeKoven, and Jeanne Segal, 2012)
What is Play?
In his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown lists seven properties of play:
- Play is voluntary
- It makes you feel good
- It is fun without a purpose
- We lose track of time
- In the midst of play we forget to be self-conscious
- The process of play encourages improvisation. It is not rigid.
- Play creates a desire to continue (We get hooked because it feels good!)
What happens when we actively schedule time for play into our daily lives? Our brain lights up!
- Play improves cognitive abilities such as problem solving skills and memory.
- Play improves relationships with others as it increases flexibility, fosters creativity, improves social skills, and reduces stress.
- Play spices up our loves life as it fosters, joy, bonding, trust, and intimacy.
- Play releases endorphins (the “feel good” hormone) into the body.
Make Time for Play
Play is an essential element of mental health. The next time someone says, “You should act your age,” remember the tremendous benefits of play for the mind, body, and relationships. Take some time this week to run out and explore, pretend, laugh, and play a pointless game with a friend. Make time to play.
More Resources on Play
- Playful Activities for Couples
- Pointless Games for Families and Groups
- Great article and resources: Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning: Why Play Matters for Both Kids and Adults.